Genetic testing is an option if you have a family history of breast cancer; regardless, if over 40 get an annual mammogram

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, making it a good time to consider talking to your primary-care provider about genetic testing if you have a family history of breast cancer.

“Genetic testing is not recommended for all women, but can be helpful for those with a family history of breast cancer to determine if they are at risk,” said Dr. Mridula Vinjamuri of KentuckyOne Health in a news release. “There is only a small chance that your family carries gene mutations that cause breast cancer. However, gene mutations account for about five to 10 percent of all breast cancers, so it is beneficial for women with a family history to be tested for these genes.”

Genetic testing helps determine if you carry certain genes that are known to cause breast cancer, such as BRCA1, BRCA2 and PALB2. Testing involves your physicians sending either a blood or saliva sample to the lab.

KentuckyOne Health notes that about 12 percent of women get breast cancer, but about 55 to 60 percent of women with the BRCA1 gene mutation will get breast cancer by age 70 and an estimated 45 percent of those with the BRCA2 gene mutation will by age 70. says that those with the PALB2 gene mutation have a 14 percent risk of developing breast cancer by age 50 and a 35 percent increased chance by age 70.

These gene mutations are inherited from a person’s mother or father. The release recommends that the first family member who has breast cancer get the gene test first, because if they don’t have the gene mutations, then other family members won’t either. Men with these mutations also have an increased risk of breast cancer.

KentuckyHealth One also notes the importance of seeing a genetic counselor before having any genetic testing to discuss the potential risks, limitations and benefits of the testing.

While there is no medical risks associated with genetic testing other than the slight risks associated with having your blood drawn, there are some psychological risks. The release notes that some who are tested become anxious, angry, sad or depressed because of the uncertainty related to finding out they carry the abnormal genes; others feel a sense of inevitability, though this may not be the case; and others struggle over what they should do next.

“Being aware of how to reduce your risk for a breast cancer diagnosis is very important,” said Dr. Mounika Mandadi of Louisville’s James Graham Brown Cancer Center, which provides breast cancer genetic counseling and testing. “Our goal at the clinic is to raise awareness of breast cancer, decrease risk of diagnosis, and provide chemoprevention.”

The release added that as you weigh the risks and rewards of testing to remember: “All women older than 40 should receive an annual mammogram, regardless of genetic testing results, as aging women are at risk for developing breast cancer.” And remember, men can also get breast cancer.

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