Worrying about developing breast and ovarian cancer is only natural—but you don’t have to be in the dark about your risk factors. If you know or suspect that your family has a history of breast or ovarian cancer, you have options. Genetic testing is a powerful tool that can help you put aside your doubts and become self-aware when it comes to your health. Getting a genetic test might be part of your personalized plan for cancer prevention—and knowing your risk factors is a key first step.
This Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, we’re encouraging everyone to #AssessThenAct: take the Assess Your Risk quiz, and then create a preventative action plan to protect your health. Get started in just 5 minutes today.
Sis, have you ever contemplated genetic testing (a type of medical test that identifies changes in chromosomes, genes, or proteins)? It’s a powerful way to take charge of your breast and ovarian health that can
- Confirm or rule out a suspected mutation in your DNA or
- Help determine your chance of developing or passing on a genetic disorder.
While there can be significant benefits to the knowledge gained through genetic testing, we know this isn’t always easy, especially for women of color. We are not blind to the fact that there is mistrust in the medical system in part due to widely publicized experiments, and racial bias in the healthcare system. Before signing up for genetic testing, many Black women have to overcome deeply-rooted concern about the potential misuse of DNA results and mistrust of health research, which has not always benefited them and was sometimes conducted without their consent. We hope that learning more about the benefits of testing, what to expect, and which professionals to rely on throughout the process will help you make informed choices that are right for you.
Understanding Your Genetics is Important
When you want to be proactive about your health…
Understanding the basics of genetics—especially how mutations can lead to a higher risk of certain cancers—gives you better information about your overall health plan. About genetic testing. And about discussions to have with your healthcare provider.
When your family history indicates a pattern…
A family history of cancer may mean there’s an underlying genetic cause. Once you understand how genes and mutations work, you’re better equipped to work through your family history—and better equipped for conversations with your healthcare provider or a genetic counselor.
Your healthcare provider is likely to recommend testing if you have certain medically significant risk factors. If your personal or family health history includes any of the following (from the National Comprehensive Cancer Network), you should strongly consider testing.
- Breast cancer by age 45
- Breast cancer by 50 AND a close relative with breast or ovarian cancer by 50
- Male breast cancer in your family
- Breast cancer at any age AND two or more relatives with breast cancer at any age
- Cancer in both breasts
- Ovarian, primary peritoneal or fallopian cancer at any age
- A close relative with a BRCA mutation or another mutation that increases the risk of developing cancer.
- Triple-negative breast cancer
When you’re curious, or you want to fill in the gaps…
A complete family history means going back at least three generations. That’s not always possible, so understanding your own genetic makeup can help you—and your healthcare provider—work backward to fill in the gaps. And even if you’re simply curious about your own health, understanding your genetic risks is a proactive way to get a better overall view.
Asking the Right Questions
Finding someone to talk to is one thing, but being sure that you are asking the right questions… is another. Some questions that you should consider include:
- Am I a candidate for genetic testing? Should I consider it?
- Do you have any good ways to spark discussions with my relatives about our health history?
- Based on my family history, what’s my chance of testing positive for a genetic mutation? What’s my projected risk for developing breast and/or ovarian cancer?
- If someone in my family has tested positive for a known genetic mutation, what are the chances that I’m also a carrier?
- What type of test do you recommend?
- What’s our plan if I test positive, negative, VUS?
- What type of cancer screenings do you recommend for me if I decide not to get tested?
We’ve gone ahead and created a full list of questions to help guide your conversations with your healthcare provider or genetic counselor.
At the end of the day, the more you understand about your personal risk for breast and ovarian cancer, the better equipped you’ll be to make the healthy choices that are right for you. So you can live your best life.