My patients commonly ask, “How can I prevent cancer?” As a gynecologic oncologist, or specialist in women’s cancers, identifying and preventing hereditary cancers is a priority. I would like to take this opportunity to focus on hereditary gynecologic cancers, those passed on from relatives. We now know that hereditary ovarian cancers, for example, are caused by mutations or defects in several genes and testing for only one hereditary cancer syndrome such as BRCA mutations may lead to missed mutations. Panel testing, or testing for 25 genes, has evolved to evaluate multiple clinically important genetic defects thereby identifying more women who may be at risk for hereditary ovarian cancer. Promising data from the American Society of Clinical Oncology Meeting in June, 2014, the world’s premiere oncology meeting, highlighted the significant improvement in hereditary cancer detection rate with panel testing.
Women with a mutation or defect in the BRCA 1 or BRCA2 genes have an up to 44% risk of developing ovarian cancer by the age of 70. Mutation carriers who have already been diagnosed with one cancer may have a significantly increased risk of developing a second cancer. Women with Lynch Syndrome are similarly at higher risk of developing ovarian, uterine and colon cancers. Genetic testing, particularly panel testing, can identify mutations or defects in genes which may increase a woman’s risk of cancer. It is important to know your family history, particularly if any family members had breast, ovarian, uterine or colon cancers. You can also take Myriad Genetics’ quiz at www.hereditarycancerquiz.com to see if you may benefit from genetic testing.
You may benefit from genetic testing if you:
- Had breast cancer at the age of 50 or younger
- Have ever had ovarian cancer
- Are male and have had breast cancer at any age
- Are of Ashkenazi Jewish descent and have a personal or family history of breast, ovarian or pancreatic cancer
OR, if your family:
- Has had someone diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer at any age
- Has had two breast cancers in the same person or on the same side of the family
- Has had pancreatic cancer and breast, ovarian or pancreatic cancer in the same person or on the same side of the family
- Has had three or more family members with breast cancer on the same side of the family
Life-saving screening as well as preventive surgery can be performed to prevent cancer. If you meet any of the above criteria or are concerned about your family history of cancer, please speak with your health care professional to properly assess your risk. Part of our mission at www.thelewinfund.org is to educate, identify and prevent hereditary cancers.