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Are Your Genes Putting You at Risk for Breast Cancer?

6 Genetic Red Flags To Be Aware Of
By DuPage Medical Group High Risk Breast Clinic

Chances are you or someone you love has been affected by breast cancer. It is the second most common cancer in the country affecting nearly 12% of women, with more than 230,000 new cases being diagnosed each year.

But did you know that the risk for breast cancer may be tied to your genes?

When an individual inherits a genetic mutation in a gene associated with an increased risk of developing cancer, they are considered to have a hereditary cancer syndrome. Specifically, women who inherit a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation have approximately a 45-80% lifetime risk of developing breast cancer. These mutations account for 5-10% of all breast cancers diagnosed in the U.S.

The good news is that genetic counselors can help assess your risk through screening tools and genetic testing.

Not Just BRCA

Genetic testing has gotten more advanced over the last 10 years and can now identify multiple gene mutations at a time. Genetic testing can tell you whether you have an inherited gene associated with an increased risk for breast cancer, or other cancers like ovarian and thyroid.

The most common and most commonly discussed gene mutations are the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. However, there are other genes that contribute to increased risk including TP53, CHEK2, ATM, PALB2, PTEN, CDH1 and STK11 as well as others that are still being researched.

6 Red Flags That Indicate You Should Meet With A Genetic Counselor

Below are six red flags that suggest a potential for genetic breast cancer:

  1. You have a family history of breast and/or other cancers.

If cancer runs in your family, for example if two or more first and/or second degree relatives on the same side of your family have been diagnosed with cancer, consider talking to your doctor about genetic counseling. Certain family factors — including other red flags outlined below — may help to determine if you are at a higher risk.

  1. Cancer occurring at a younger than average age.

Breast cancer is most common in women between the ages of 55 and 60. Being diagnosed at a younger age, specifically before the age of 50, means you may have a genetic mutation and higher risk of getting breast cancer again later in life. In addition, women who develop “triple negative” breast cancer before the age of 60 may also be at a higher risk for hereditary cancer.

  1. Developing cancer in both breasts.

Being diagnosed with cancer in one breast is common enough, but having it in both breasts (bilateral) is a sign of being high risk.

  1. Developing breast cancer at any age, with at least one other risk factor:
  • A first or second degree relative diagnosed with breast cancer before age 50
  • A relative who had ovarian cancer diagnosed at any age
  • A first or second degree male relative diagnosed with breast cancer
  • Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry with significant personal and/or family history of breast or ovarian cancer
  1. Diagnosed with breast and another type of cancer.

Breast and ovarian cancers are often linked, especially in people with BRCA mutations. However, having breast cancer with additional types of cancer (like uterine, thyroid, colon, or melanoma) can also be a red flag.

  1. A gene mutation runs in the family.

If a blood relative has a gene mutation that increases cancer risk, you may need to consider genetic testing. Mutated genes are not always inherited, but do run within families. That’s why it is important to know and understand your family health history.

Your Risk Assessment

A genetic counselor will compile a detailed personal and family history. Utilizing this information, the genetic counselor will discuss your cancer genetic risks; this discussion will include an explanation of what genetic testing entails, how it can determine a predisposition to cancer, and how it can run through families. In conjunction with your physician or other specialists, a discussion of whether genetic testing is an option for you will be reviewed along with an explanation of the testing procedure and insurance coverage.

Depending on your family history and test results, there are many different options to help reduce your risk of developing cancer. Your physician may recommend a prophylactic mastectomy, while in other situations frequent and enhanced preventive screening (MRI, additional mammograms) may be recommended. Knowing which genes are involved is crucial to your care plan as it will help your genetic counselor and physicians determine the best path for you.


If you feel you may be at high risk for breast cancer, please talk to your primary care physician or call DMG’s High Risk Breast Clinic at 630-545-7659.

Topics and Subtopics: Cancer & Women's Health

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High Risk Breast Clinic
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