By KENDALL GILFILLAN
It’s officially October. The month of all-pink-everything in the name of Breast Cancer Awareness has finally arrived, and not without just cause.
About one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime, and chances are you know someone who has been given such a diagnosis.
As a woman, it is common to be routinely asked about family history concerning breast cancer and ovarian cancer early on. Now genetic testing for a mutation that heightens the likelihood of the common cancer is becoming not only an option, but a suggestion, for young women.
The genetic blood test looks at the BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 genes, which produce tumor suppressor proteins. If one of these two genes is mutated or altered, then the cells have an increased likelihood of developing other alterations that can lead to cancer.
Whereas BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 genetic mutations collectively account for 20-25% of hereditary cancers, they only account for five to ten percent of all breast cancers. Thus, in 2013 the United States Preventative Services Task Force suggested that only women who have a family history of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, or fallopian tube cancer be evaluated.
It was suggested to the degree that testing for such women was covered under the Affordable Care Act. Now, however, it is being discussed whether not the general population should be urged to undergo the BRCA testing as a first step to prevention of certain cancers.
The overall risk of developing breast cancer was shown to increase from 53% to 73% in women carrying a BRCA-1 mutation and having a familial history for this type of cancer, and from 39% to 65% in women carrying a BRCA-2 oncogenic mutation and having a familial history for breast cancer.
In more recent years, this has developed into a heightened prevalence of genetic testing for BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 mutations. A positive result for such a mutation in turn indicates an increased risk for developing certain cancers.
Some young women, after receiving a positive result for a BRCA mutation, choose to undergo preventative bilateral mastectomy– breast removal surgery. Some women may hence feel empowered by knowing their BRCA status, but others may suffer this condition as an unsurmountable psychological burden.
Given the young age of the targeted audience of BRCA gene mutation testing and the unpredictable outcome and reactions for each individual woman, whether or not such testing should be carried out in at risk females (let alone the wide population) is highly contested.
While the lack of a clear and correct path persists, it is nevertheless important to bear in mind these numbers and the weight of such decisions faced by women we know and love– perhaps even faced by ourselves.
This Breast Cancer Awareness month, let us not only celebrate those who have survived breast cancer, remember those we have lost to breast cancer, and support those battling breast cancer. Let us also support those women with hereditary history of breast cancer and the decisions they face.
Let us educate ourselves about BRCA-testing so that we may join in the conversation and raise true awareness.
Kendall Gilfillan is the Associate Editor of Style Home Page. A Nashville native recently returned from London, she is excited to explore and empower Nashville with a new eye. Follow along with her adventures at @kmgilfillan.