Q: My mother and grandmother both have breast cancer. Mom is encouraging me to get a genetic testing home kit that could help me make decisions for myself and my daughters. Is this a good idea?
A: The FDA recently approved a measure allowing laboratories to send breast cancer genetic screening kits directly to people at home. An online physician signs off on the test and patients can get screened for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 breast cancer genes.
From a patient’s perspective, there are some benefits.
First, a test that screens only for one or two gene mutations might be less expensive. Second, these tests utilize cheek swabs and saliva rather than a blood draw, so they are less invasive. And, lastly, you can order the test for someone else.
However, you should consider these factors before ordering a kit. The biggest risk for breast cancer is having breasts and getting older. Only 20 percent of breast cancers are caused by an inheritable gene mutation.
By the time you reach 80 years old, your risk for breast cancer is 1 in 8, or 12 percent.
Also, there are multiple genes that can cause increased risk for breast and other cancers. If you order a test that screens only for two gene mutations, a negative result might give you a false sense of security. More thorough testing can provide a clearer picture of your potential risk.
Additionally, having a gene mutation does not guarantee you will get cancer. On the other hand, testing negative for a gene does not mean you won’t get breast cancer.
For women with a strong family history of breast cancer, more in-depth screening should be ordered. Your OB-GYN or breast care specialist can coordinate this screening, in addition to a yearly mammogram.
Because your mother and grandmother are still alive, they should undergo gene testing first. Once you have those results, talk to your OB-GYN about your complete family history and other risk factors you may have for breast cancer.
She can make appropriate recommendations for screenings and lifestyle modifications.
Joanne Price Williamson, M.D., is an OB-GYN with Memorial Health University Physicians. She sees patients at her office in Okatie.