Most breast cancers don’t happen because of something you inherited. But, some inherited changes (mutations) in certain genes can put you at a higher risk of getting breast cancer. In those cases, the doctor may suggest genetic counseling and testing.
A genetic counselor is a specially trained expert. They understand how genes mutate and how they are inherited. They work with people to find out what their chances are of getting different diseases, including breast cancer. You may be at a higher risk for breast cancer if you:
- Have close family members who have or had breast cancer (and certain other cancers)
- Are of Ashkenazi Jewish or Eastern European descent
- Have had breast cancer (or certain other cancers) yourself
- Have someone in your family who inherited the breast cancer susceptibility gene (BRCA) 1 or BRCA2 mutated genes, or certain other mutations
A genetic counselor looks at your medical history. They ask about family members’ medical history. They use that information to figure out how likely you are to get breast cancer. They will let you know about tests that may show if you have any of the genetic mutations that might cause breast cancer. If you decide to have testing done, the genetic counselor will help explain the results to you, give you support and help you figure out next steps.
Genetic counselors will also teach you ways you can lower your risk, like keeping a healthy lifestyle.
Genetic testing is done with a blood or saliva sample. You will have blood drawn or your cheek swabbed. The sample is sent to a lab and tested to see if you have any inherited mutations that might cause breast cancer. If your test is positive, that means you have a gene mutation. But, that doesn’t mean that you will get breast cancer for sure. It means you have a higher chance. And a negative test doesn’t mean you won’t get cancer. You could still get breast cancer from something else.
Talk to your health care provider to see if genetic counseling or genetic testing may be right for you.