Is Breast Cancer Hereditary?

Is Breast Cancer Hereditary?
Dr. June J. Lee Surgeon Smithtown, NY

June Lee, MD is breast surgeon specializing in breast cancer as well as other problems of the breast, including lumps, abnormal imaging studies, and high risk conditions such as brca mutation. Her cutting-edge surgical care includes; the nipple-sparing mastectomy and oncoplastic surgery, which means treating breast problems... more

Breast cancer is not necessarily caused by hereditary factors. The majority of breast cancer cases are associated with mutations in cells that were developed during a person's lifetime.

However, there is a small percentage of breast cancer patients who do acquire the disease because of genetic predispositions. Mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes can be inherited, which will increase a person's chances of developing breast cancer. But not everybody who inherits these mutations will develop the disease.

Breast cancer is more common in women than in men, but men can also inherit BRCA mutations. This means men can also be at risk of developing breast cancer and also for passing on the mutated genes to their children.

If you have these genetic mutations or a strong family history of breast cancer, it is sometimes recommended to receive a breast MRI and a mammogram every year at a younger age. Screening for breast cancer early and often can help catch the disease at an early stage. And catching the disease at an early stage will increase your chances of survival.

Inherited breast cancer is caused by two abnormal genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2, or breast cancer gene one and breast cancer gene two. Everyone has these genes, but when there are abnormalities present in these genes that is when there is a risk for breast cancer.

BRCA genes are responsible for the normal growth of breast cell, ovarian cells and other cells, and they are also responsible for repairing damage to these cells. Mutations to these genes can be passed on from generation to generation, and this increases the risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer and even other cancers. These mutated or abnormal genes can cause the cells to grow abnormally, which can therefore cause cancer.

Women who have abnormal BRCA genes and are diagnosed with breast cancer usually have a family history of cancer. Such relatives include mothers, sisters, grandmothers and aunts, and if any of these relatives or multiple relatives were diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of 50, your risk of developing the disease is higher.

You are also more likely to have inherited an abnormal BRCA gene if:

  • There is breast cancer and ovarian cancer on the same side of your family.
  • Your family has a history of additional cancers like colon, prostate, stomach, melanoma, etc.
  • Cancer was present in both breasts of women in your family.
  • A male relative was diagnosed with breast cancer.

If you have a relative with a known BRCA gene mutation, that does not mean you have it too. Just because one family member has the abnormal gene, that doesn't mean all family members have it. Also, if you do have the abnormal gene, that does not mean you will definitely develop breast cancer. You are at a higher risk if you have the mutation, but that does not mean for certain that you will have cancer.

It is important to know that inheriting a BRCA gene mutation isn't the only way you can get breast cancer. Researchers are finding that other chromosomes with abnormalities or mutations might be associated with breast cancer. These are called single nucleotide polymorphisms and are referred to as SNPs. There are also a number of other genes that are also associated with the disease if they are abnormal, but these are more rare.

If you believe you might have inherited a BRCA1 or BRCA2 abnormal gene, you can get a genetic test done to confirm or dismiss this. If you know you have the abnormal breast cancer genes, it is very important to maintain a healthy lifestyle to lower your risk of developing breast cancer. You should eat a healthy diet, exercise often, keep a stable weight, limit alcohol intake and do not smoke.

You should definitely go for more frequent breast cancer screenings than the average person if you have the inherited gene mutation. In addition, you can receive hormone therapy and even protective surgery if you wish to do so. Some protective surgery includes having your breasts and ovaries removed before you develop the disease.