When breast cancer is diagnosed early, treatment can start right away. This may mean that surgeries will be less invasive and treatment in the form of chemotherapy may be less aggressive. It is understood that genetic testing can show the risk for hereditary breast and ovarian cancers through the presence of mutations of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. If there is either BRCA mutation presence then there is a greater than an 80 percent chance that the patient will develop breast cancer and more than 40 percent chance of developing ovarian cancer.
Patients who are found to have the BRCA mutation on either gene have three treatment options. Some choose to use mammograms and ultrasounds to increase surveillance. Others consider taking breast cancer medicines, such as tamoxifen, in an attempt to reduce the risk. Now, however, many patients are choosing to undergo prophylactic surgery.
The decision to undergo prophylactic surgery should not be taken lightly. The patient should have extensive counseling and the decision should also take into account the patient’s ability to recover. Reconstructive surgery will be required as well, and while the techniques for this type of surgery have improved significantly, patients should look for a surgeon who is proficient in doing breast reconstruction after the patient has had prophylactic, bilateral surgery.
The genetic test that identifies the presence of BRCA mutations in the body is simple. It only requires the patient to give a blood sample and if either BRCA mutation is detected, the appropriate medical decisions can be made. Patients how have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer or have immediate family members who have had these types of cancers are highly recommended to have this blood test.
There are however significant barriers to having the BRCA test done. In the United States, the cost of the test is around $2,000 and not all insurances will pay for it. This means that most patients would need to pay out of pocket if they wanted to have the test done due to family history. The high cost is why most patients rely on their doctor’s expertise to determine if something is wrong.
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