2 Your Health: Talking to mom about cancer history

Knowing your family’s history is the first step toward prevention

Taking mom out to brunch on Mother’s Day can be a great opportunity to talk about family cancer history.

Know your family’s cancer history

According to Halle Moore, M.D., of Cleveland Clinic, cancers such as breast and ovarian can be genetic and knowing about them now may help prevent them from developing later.

“By knowing your family history you may know better if you might be at risk for a similar type of cancer and in some families where there’s such a strong cancer history, we may be able to test for genes that are associated with those cancers,” said Dr. Moore.

Breast cancer can be inherited from either parent, as men can carry breast cancer genes as well.

Dr. Moore said there are well known cancer-causing genes such as BRCA-1 and BRCA-2, as well as some not so well known genes that can be passed on to family members and cause breast cancer.

Genetic testing

For those who have a strong family history of cancer, there are testing options available through a simple blood test.

Doctors will typically test the person who was diagnosed with cancer first to see if they can pinpoint the mutated gene and then use that information to see if they can find the same gene mutation in other family members.

While doctors don’t usually recommend preventative surgery just because a person carries a risk for breast cancer, for those whose risk is 80 percent or more, preventative surgery can be a good option.

Screening and prevention

Dr. Moore said for a person whose family has a history of breast cancer, but not a known genetic predisposition for it, there are screening options and risk reduction options.

“Screening means things like breast examinations, mammograms, for some high risk individuals maybe even an MRI as part of the screening approach,” said Dr. Moore. “We also now have medications that can help reduce the risk.”

Dr. Moore said that genetic test results are not always simple and straight forward.  Patients will often get panel testing, which allows them to test for a broader range of genes, but there is still more research that needs to be done on certain genes that may be linked to different types of cancers in order for doctors to be able to effectively devise a plan for prevention.


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