Editor’s Note: This article is part of a collaborative reporting series between the American Cancer Society and Next Avenue. The series is exploring the state of genetic testing in breast cancer patients.)
When women and their doctors are making breast cancer treatment decisions today, they have more tools than ever before to help them. One such tool is genetic testing. This type of test can provide information about a woman’s breast cancer and her risk for future cancers. As genetic testing has become more available and less expensive, more patients and doctors have started using the tests to help them make informed treatment decisions.
Many women with early-stage cancers can choose between breast-conserving surgery and mastectomy. The main advantage of breast-conserving surgery is that a woman keeps most of her breast. Studies have shown that this type of treatment gives women with breast cancer at least as good a chance of survival as mastectomy, which removes the entire breast.
But some women who undergo genetic testing learn they have a mutation that greatly increases risk of a second breast cancer. Women with this finding sometimes decide to lower their future cancer risk by having both breasts removed — the one that has cancer and the one that doesn’t. This is called bilateral mastectomy.
Only about 5 to 10 percent of breast cancer cases are thought to be hereditary, but having an inherited mutation, especially in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene, can significantly increase risk of breast, ovarian and other cancers.
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