You are probably aware that if two or more of your close family members (or just one family member for those of Ashkenazi Jewish descent) had breast or ovarian cancer, you are at increased risk for such cancers yourself. That is why various health organizations, such as the US Preventive Services Task Force, issue guidelines on who should consider genetic counseling and possibly be tested for the abnormal genes (BRCA1 and BRCA2) associated with most inherited breast and ovarian cancers. Test results can help determine your risk level and identify appropriate self-defense strategies.
Problem: According to a recent article published in Cancer, only 34% of family physicians, 41% of general internists and 57% of gynecologists surveyed reported adhering to guidelines in referring high-risk patients for genetic counseling and testing. Among the reasons for the low adherence rates: The guidelines are complicated… and the various organizations define high risk differently.
Protect yourself: Visit www.USPreventiveServicesTaskForce.org/uspstf05/brcagen/brcagenrs.htm or www.Cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/risk/BRCA for more information on genetic risk… then talk with your doctor about your family history of breast and ovarian cancer, including who was diagnosed and at what age, if this information is available. Reassuring: For women whose genetic test results show that they do carry an abnormal BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene, additional screening tests, medication and/or prophylactic surgery can greatly reduce the risk of succumbing to cancer.