DES MOINES, Iowa — It’s a popular statistic. One in eight women will be affected by breast cancer. Yet, what we don’t hear as often is that one in 500 women carry a genetic mutation that puts them at a higher risk for developing breast and ovarian cancer — known as the BRCA genetic mutation.
“Knowing if you would have the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation, and what those genes are supposed to do is protect us from cancer. If they’re tweaked, or what we call mutated, in a pathogenic way then it increases the risk of breast cancer up to sometimes 70-90 percent,” said Doctor Tiffany Torstenson, a breast surgery specialist at MercyOne.
The mutation is passed down through generations and found through genetic testing.
“How you get the mutation, it’s inherited from one parent or the other… You have about a 50/50 chance of getting it,” said Torstenson.
While breast cancer is more common among women, men can also develop the disease and should consider getting genetically tested.
“Any man who gets breast cancer we always recommend genetic testing, but knowing what mutation they have, for instance the BRCA1 or BRCA2, sometimes that goes with prostate cancer and melanoma, and pancreatic cancer,” said Torstenson.
For those given a positive BRCA diagnosis, the path forward can change depending on the patient.
“It’s about coordinating care with your provider for what’s best for you. I always say the patients are the captains of the ship, they decide what happens. I am just here to educate them and give them a pathway to make those informed decisions,” said Torstenson.
For some, that means additional screenings that allow abnormalities to be caught early through additional mammograms and even MRI imaging, but others may choose to take it a step further.
“Some women will also take a bigger step and prophylactically have the breast removed, which will reduce the risk of getting that breast cancer up to 97 and 98 percent,” said Torstenson.
But Doctor Torstenson says no matter patient’s, the key takeaway is “knowledge is power.”
“It’s about knowing your risk and that’s very important,” Torstenson said.