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Genetics and Breast Cancer

Genetic Risks for Breast Cancer

Breast cancer that is directly linked to genetic or hereditary factors is a small but significant segment of the overall breast cancer diagnoses. It is estimated that up to 10% of all breast cancers are caused by a genetic abnormality, which is often inherited from previous generations.

The BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations are the most closely identified with significantly elevating a woman’s risk for breast cancer during her lifetime. Everyone has a BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene. There is a specific mutation that occurs on these genes that increases a woman’s risk for cancer.

Other genes that are still being studied but have been linked to increased risk for breast cancer include PALB2, PTEN, TP53, ATM, CDH1, and several others.

Women are more likely to have genetic mutations if they have certain other risk factors, including blood relatives diagnosed with cancer at an early age or in both breasts, triple negative cancer, multiple cancers on the same side of the family, having Ashkenazi Jewish heritage or being African-American and being diagnosed with breast cancer before age 35.

Genetic mutations can be confirmed through genetic testing, which tests an array of genes for potential mutations and determines cancer risk.

How to Reduce Your Risk


Women with genetic risk for breast cancer have a number of steps they can take to reduce their risk. These options range from close surveillance to hormone therapy to risk-reducing mastectomy and other surgical procedures.

Surgical Treatments


Genetic risk for breast cancer may also increase risk for ovarian cancer. Surgical treatments to prevent cancer from developing include risk-reducing mastectomy and removal of the ovaries and fallopian tubes. 

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