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Genetic Counselling and Testing

If you have a family history of breast cancer, the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation  encourages you to consider speaking to a health care provider about your risk level and whether genetic testing would be right for you.  

An estimated 5-10 percent of all breast cancer cases are thought to be hereditary or caused by genetic factors. A mutation in the BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 gene is one of the main known causes of hereditary breast cancer. Genetic counselling is offered when individuals and/or families are thought to have a genetic risk of breast cancer. It is an important first step to determine the level of breast cancer risk and options to consider for breast cancer screening, ongoing assessment, and risk reduction.  

Genetic counselling

Genetic counselling makes an assessment of breast cancer risk based on your personal and family medical histories. Several different tools are used to assess a person’s breast cancer risk and whether they may be a carrier of a genetic mutation that increases the risk. If a genetic risk of breast cancer is identified, you will be offered genetic testing.

Deciding whether or not to go for genetic testing is a big decision and a very personal choice. To help you make that decision, genetic counselling is an opportunity for you to discuss with a trained genetic counsellor the benefits and limitations of genetic testing and the implications of a positive or negative test result for you, your life decisions, and your health care options.  

Genetic testing

Several methods are available to test for genetic mutations that predispose an individual to breast cancer, for example in the BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 genes.

Why go for genetic testing?

  • To confirm whether or not you have a genetic predisposition to breast cancer.

  • To help you better understand your personal risk of breast cancer.

  • To give insights into other family members who may be at an increased risk of breast cancer.

  • To learn about ways to reduce your risk of breast cancer with lifestyle changes.

  • To explore medical options that reduce breast cancer risk (e.g. surgery to remove the breasts and/or ovaries or chemoprevention).

  • To set up regular breast cancer screening and medical check-ups to for your breast health and to detect breast cancer earlier.  

More Information:

Assessing breast cancer risk

Using risk assessment tools

Breast cancer screening by mammography

Breast cancer risk factors

Reducing your risk of breast cancer 

Sources:

Canadian Association of Genetic Counselling. What is a genetic counselor? Accessed July 31, 2011.

National Cancer Institute (USA). Genetics of Breast & Ovarian Cancer.  Accessed July 31, 2011.