Get informed! Learn more through these frequently asked questions about breast and ovarian cancer, genetic testing, and Bright Pink's work on behalf of young women.
Ask a Genetic Counselor allows you to submit your hereditary cancer questions anonymously to a certified genetic counselor.
A: While cervical cancer is another serious issue for young women, Bright Pink focuses on breast and ovarian cancer. This is because these cancers can be genetically linked and run in families. Cervical cancer is usually caused by the HPV virus (a sexually transmitted virus). There are no genes that can raise your risk of getting this cancer.
A: You can definitely get involved! While Bright Pink’s national office is located in Chicago, we have eight local Chapters around the country. Learn more about bringing Bright Pink to your community on our Volunteer page!Collapse [ - ]
A: No! It’s important to remember that when you get a Pap smear at your yearly gynecological exam, you are being screened for cervical, not ovarian cancer.
A: Unfortunately, it’s much tougher to detect ovarian cancer at an early stage than breast cancer. Symptoms of ovarian cancer do exist, but they aren’t very obvious, and it’s easy to confuse them with stomach or menstrual problems. Read more about the symptoms for ovarian cancer, and talk to your doctor if you experience any symptoms that don’t go away.
A: For women with an average risk of ovarian cancer, your doctor will do a pelvic exam during your annual visit. If you are at high risk for ovarian cancer, your doctor might use a test called a transvaginal ultrasound to look for tumors in and around the ovaries. This test often gives abnormal results even when there is no cancer or medical concern, so it is only recommended for women at high risk for ovarian cancer. Another test, called a CA 125 blood test, finds the amounts of a protein made by some ovarian cancer cells. Again, this test is not recommended for every woman, only sometimes for those with an increased risk.
A: All women are at risk for getting ovarian cancer. It’s just that some personal and family factors can increase your risk. So, it’s important for every woman to get a gynecological check every year, to know the symptoms of ovarian cancer, and to understand how to check for them. If you do find these symptoms, and they last for more than two weeks, you should see a doctor (preferably a gynecologist).Collapse [ - ]
A: Some women have what doctors call fibrocystic breasts, which makes it difficult to check for cancer. If you have fibrocystic breasts, draw a map that shows where and how big each of the “lumps” are. Then, look at your map every month when you do your breast self-exam. If you feel lumps in new places, ask your doctor to check them with you and tell you if they are concerning.
A: During your menstrual cycle, your breasts can change due to changes in your hormones, chemicals that travel through your body. These are normal changes, and are not concerning. The best time to do your breast self-exam is after your period has ended.
A: Your doctor will do a complete breast exam to check the lump you’ve noticed. If it is a new lump, she may ask you to have less caffeine and come back in a month or two to check the area again. Or she might order another test, like an ultrasound or mammogram, to take a closer look at the breast tissue.
A: Current guidelines recommend that women age 40 and older have screening mammograms every year to check for breast cancer. However, if you are a young woman with a high risk and a family history of breast cancer, recommendations are that you should start getting screening tests with MRI and mammograms at age 30, or ten years earlier than your youngest relative’s diagnosis. Every woman should make the personal decision about when to start screening along with her doctor.
A: Ultrasounds and mammograms are both good tests to check a breast lump, but mammograms are not as good for women with dense breast tissue. This kind of tissue makes the tests harder to read. Every woman’s breast tissue naturally gets less dense as she gets older, so ultrasounds are better for most women under age 35, while mammograms are better for most women over age 35.
A: Absolutely not! Taking more pictures just means the radiologist is being very thorough and making certain that she can see every area of your breast. It’s the best way to make sure there is nothing of concern. Mammograms can be hard to read, and it is much better to have more views of the breast than to not see clearly enough to be sure everything is ok. More views (or even a biopsy) are needed and will help make sure you get accurate information from the test.
A: The following are great resources for finding a doctor or genetic counselor near you:
A: Usually, insurance providers will cover the cost of testing for women with a personal or family history of breast or ovarian cancer. The insurance company will have a record of your test, but they do not have the right to ask for the results. However, you may choose to share your results, for example, if you are seeking high-risk screening (Ex. breast MRI) that you want your insurance to cover. A law called the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act keeps your insurance company from denying you coverage or setting specific costs (premiums) if they see your test results.
A: It is very important to understand some basic facts about genetic testing before deciding to take a BRCA test. Some women feel more comfortable learning about their risk from their doctor, with whom they already have a relationship. On the other hand, your gynecologist will likely be the doctor doing risk-reducing surgery for ovarian cancer. She will also manage most of your health concerns if tests show you have a BRCA mutation. For those reasons, some women choose to talk to their gynecologists.
Genetic counselors are medical professionals specifically trained to:
Additionally, since they focus on your risks of inheriting cancer and are not involved in other parts of your medical care, genetic counselors usually have more time than physicians to talk to you.
While many doctors can offer BRCA1/2 testing, not all of them will know about more rare cancers. Genetic counselors, however, can decide when BRCA1/2 is or is not the right test based on the pattern of cancer in your family. Or, they may suggest testing other genes for women who have a normal BRCA1/2 result. Finally, genetic counselors are used to working with many different family members to make sure the whole family can benefit from early detection and prevention.
Use your judgment and do what feels most comfortable to you when deciding where to have your test.
A: A negative BRCA test result means there’s less of a chance your personal or family history of cancer was caused by inherited genes. But, it doesn’t rule it out completely. It is possible that:
After a negative BRCA test, your health care provider should look at your family history and make recommendations for your future screening tests. For example, a woman with a family history of breast cancer who tests negative for a BRCA mutation may still need to get increased breast screening (like, MRI) based on your family history alone.
A: It’s hard to say, but probably not. The cancer in families with BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations tends to have certain characteristics, such as:
It is very unusual to see these characteristics; therefore, it is not likely that they happen in a family by random chance. They are probably a sign of some genetic mutation.
While most families with these characteristics carry mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, there are some families that do not have a mutation that doctors can find (result is negative/normal). Therefore, we know there must be other breast and ovarian cancer genes that scientists have not yet discovered. If your family tested negative for mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2, a mutation in a completely different (and unidentifiable) gene could still run in your family. That means families with normal genetic test results may still have hereditary cancer.
Still have questions? Contact us at: BrightPink@BeBrightPink.org.Collapse [ - ]