Written by Dr. Azza Attia
Dr. Azza Attia is a French Board Medical Geneticist with 20 years of experience in clinical, chromosomal and molecular genetics. She is also an expert in paediatric genetics with expertise in dysmorphology
There are different types of breast cancer, being aware and educated about these different types, will help you get the right screenings, to protect yourself better against breast cancer.
The body is made up of trillions of living cells. These cells grow, divide, and die in an orderly fashion. This process is tightly regulated and is controlled by the DNA machinery within the cell. When cells of the body at a particular site start to grow out of control, they may become cancerous. Cancer cell growth is different from normal cell growth. This shift from normal cellular growth to abnormal cellular growth is caused by a damage of specific genes or DNA controlling cellular division.
DNA damage known as mutation may be inherited from parents; this will result in hereditary (or Genetic) cancer. However, it may result from spontaneous problem that occurs during the lifetime of a person. DNA damage may also be triggered by exposure to certain environmental toxins such as those present in cigarette smoke, this will result in sporadic cancer. Hereditary form often occurs earlier than the sporadic form of the same cancer.
Breast cancer follows the same rules as other cancers. BRCA1 and BRCA2 are the most common genes involved in hereditary breast and ovarian cancers. Breast cancers linked to these mutations occur more often in younger women and more often affect both breasts than cancers not linked to these mutations. Women with these inherited mutations also have an increased risk for developing other cancers, particularly ovarian cancer. Tests that measure likelihood for a disease are called “predictive genetic tests.” Testing these genes does not detect whether a person has cancer or not; it indicates whether a person carries a change in one of these genes which can increase cancer risk.
Other gene mutations can also lead to inherited breast cancers. These gene mutations are much rarer and often do not increase the risk of breast cancer as much as the BRCA genes. If you have a family history of breast cancer, you should see genetic specialist to determine your risk and to explain for you the procedure to follow to determine if you have genetic susceptibility for breast cancer.
For early detection of sporadic breast cancer:
-Every female has to do the self-breast examination monthly starting at age 20. -She should have a breast exam by a doctor at least every 3 years starting at age 20 and every year starting at age 40.
-A Mammogram is also recommended every 2 years starting at age 40.
For hereditary breast cancer genetic counselling and genetic tests are not the only things to do. The screening strategy is more efficient with:
-Monthly breast self-exam from age 18.
-Clinical breast exam by doctor every 6-12 months starting at age 25.
-Annual Mammography screening from 25 years or younger if there is a family history of breast cancer before 25, as well as annual MRI screening.
Early detection is very important as it will affect treatment modalities with better prognosis and lower risk of recurrence, we wish all women to have a healthy and happy life.