My mother was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer six years ago. Prior to that, she had her regular mammograms and check-ups, so it was somewhat of a surprise when she found a lump and it was found to be malignant. After intense chemotherapy and a mastectomy, she has been cancer-free for the past six years. It was a long road and she still takes preventive medication which can be draining at times. Now, she is adamant about detection and follows all post cancer protocol, which includes looking out for ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer is a deadly and often silent disease, and the link between breast cancer and ovarian cancer has been known since the 1800s.
After my mother’s treatment was finished , her doctors at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital urged her to get genetic testing done. A simple blood test known as BRCA, would show whether she had the cancer gene, which would determine if the disease would be probable in myself and my daughters. Women with the highest risk variants of BRCA mutations have a theoretical breast cancer risk of 60—82%, compared to 12% of all women. The test came back negative which was reassuring but still offered no guarantee. Consequently, if she had tested positive, her chances for developing ovarian cancer would have been higher.
According to the Breast Cancer Alliance, over 200,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. Of those, 7-10% (15,000-20,000 cases) will have an inherited predisposition. Among women with that predisposition, over half (7,000-10,000 cases) will be the result of detectable mutations in BRCA1 or BRCA2. Those women with a BRCA mutation will also have a 10-60% risk of developing ovarian cancer in their lifetime (35-60% risk with a BRCA1 mutation; 10-27% risk with BRCA2). That’s compared with a 1.5% risk of developing ovarian cancer for the general population.
It’s vital for women who have had breast cancer to be tested to see if they have the BRCA mutation, for her own battle in fighting cancer, as well as her daughters and granddaughters health.