Assessing Your Risk of Cancer
At-home DNA kits are more popular than ever. You can learn where your ancestors are from and find distant cousins and other long-lost relatives. Much can be learned from creating your family tree, especially if you include a family health history.
Ten percent of all diagnosed cancers are inherited. If your family has a history of cancer, you now have the power to learn more about hereditary cancer risks for you and your children.
What is hereditary cancer? It’s when there are mutations (changes) in specific genes that are passed down from either parent. These mutations greatly increase a person’s risk of developing certain types of cancer.
There have been dozens of genes discovered that can increase a person’s risk to develop cancer. If a mutation in a cancer-causing gene is identified within a family, it has the potential to help the entire family better understand their risks and be proactive. It could also help those individuals in the family who did not inherit the mutation, since these genes are passed down only 50 percent of the time.
If you have a strong family history of cancer, genetic testing can help you assess your personal risk and make a decision regarding preventive measures and access earlier or more frequent cancer screenings. Testing can provide information on risks for a wide range of cancers including breast, colon, prostate, ovarian and uterine cancers.
And women aren’t the only ones who should consider genetic testing. Men can inherit and pass on these genetic mutations. In fact, 50 percent of all mutation carriers are men even though they are tested at far lower rates than women.
It’s important to note that a genetic test does not diagnose cancer. It can only give you risk information – tell you about gene mutations that you have that increase your risk of developing cancer.
Genetic counseling is recommended before and after any genetic testing to help you learn the implications for the results you receive and options for next steps. Part of the consultation includes the cost of testing. Many people don’t realize that the cost for testing dropped considerably in recent years, and it may be covered by insurance.
Knowledge is power, and genetic testing can be the first step to taking action against your cancer risk.
By Katie Lang, MS, CGC, certified genetic counselor and coordinator of the Cancer Genetics Program at Northside Hospital Cancer Institute.
General Cancer Support Group
A general cancer support group meets at 12:30-2 p.m. on the third Wednesday each month in the Galleria at Northside Hospital Cherokee, 450 Northside Cherokee Blvd. The hope is to eventually add a breast cancer support group, according to Christy Andrews, executive director of Cancer Support Community Atlanta, a division of Northside Hospital Cancer Institute. For more details, visit www.cscatlanta.org.
Catch It Early
Five types of breast cancer screenings.
One out of every eight women will have breast cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. Early detection is THE key to fighting cancer. If breast cancer is caught in the beginning stages and before it spreads beyond the breast, the five-year survival rate for women is 99 percent. (Data: American Society of Clinical Oncology)
The screenings are simple. There are several types, so you want to discuss the best option with your doctor and select the one that is right for your situation. These are the most common choices.
• Mammograms. The most frequently recommended type of breast cancer screening, they require the use of X-rays. Mammograms can show the early stages and late stages of tumors through X-ray imaging. It is recommended that women 40 years old or older have mammograms every one to two years.
• Clinical breast exams. This type of screening checks for abnormalities and lumps in the breasts without invasive tools. The National Comprehensive Cancer Network shares that the breasts and underarms are usually part of an annual examination.
• Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). An MRI relies on magnetic fields to generate images. This is considered to be a more invasive procedure and is reserved for high-risk patients who meet strict criteria, such as those with BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, when the standard diagnostic testing has failed to give a conclusive answer, etc.
• BRCA testing. This test helps determine your genetic risk for breast cancer. This type of screening looks for the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations that increase the risk of having breast cancer. This screening is often offered as an option for patients who are at specific high risk for cancer.
• Thermography. This procedure uses a camera with heat-sensing technology to create a map of your breasts. Changes in temperature in the tissue can be a sign of tumors. This is another less invasive screening option.
Breast cancer kills 40,000 women every year, but screenings can help with early diagnosis and increase the rate of survival. An annual exam and screening to check for breast cancer is recommended. You can discuss the best exams and tests with your doctor, to feel confident about your screening choices. Whatever you do, don’t delay your annual exam.
By James Haley, M.D., double board certified OB/GYN and urogynecologist with Cherokee Women’s Health Specialists.