Your risk for breast and ovarian cancer

It’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Approximately one in 7 women will experience breast cancer and I’m pretty sure that you all know someone who is a survivor. In my group of friends, there are two of us who have had breast cancer. My friend and I experienced breast cancer 2 months apart and it’s been six years since our mastectomies. After the initial shock of hearing the word cancer, we moved on, buried the fear and anxiety, and we lived life.

What I’d like to talk about though is the urgent need for women to know their family history to determine if they might have the genetic mutation that links breast and ovarian cancer. As one of two facilitators for an ovarian cancer support group for the past 20 years, I have watched women survive the often grueling ovarian cancer treatment to then face breast cancer. Through the years, more and more women are getting genetic testing to determine if they have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene which greatly increases the risk of developing both breast and ovarian cancer.

There are steps that can be taken to decrease the risk of developing one or both of these cancers, and in fact, many, even with the gene mutation, will not face either of these cancers. This illustration adapted from the CDC shows the difference between women who do not have the gene mutation as compared with those who do.

Illustration of breast cancer risk for women in the U.S.

Know your risk

About 7 out of 100 women in the U.S. general population will get breast cancer by age 70, and 93 out of 100 will NOT get cancer by age 70. About 50 out of 100 women with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation will get breast cancer by age 70. About 50 out of 100 of these women will NOT get breast cancer by age 70.

Now, if we look at the risk to develop ovarian cancer, we can see that the risk is much less to develop ovarian cancer than breast cancer, but look at the picture when the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation is present.

Illustration of ovarian risk for women in the U.S.

About 30 out of 100 women with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation will get ovarian cancer by age 70. About 70 out of 100 of these women will NOT get ovarian cancer by age 70.

What should you do if you think you might have an inherited mutation?

First, talk with your doctor about your family history.  Next, consider genetic counseling where you can explore your family history and determine what your options might be for genetic testing. After you have the results of your genetic testing, talk with your doctor about your risk-reduction options.

Take care of yourself!  Acknowledge the importance of your family history.

Want to learn more?

The importance of family history and what you can do to help prevent ovarian cancer are discussed in greater detail in the course – What You Need to Know About Ovarian Cancer: Expressed through Naomi’s Journal. Check it out and then tell us what you think.