Breast Cancer Runs in Families

October 26, 2004

Fran Simon
Phone: (504) 865-5714

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, with pages in most women's magazines devoted to articles and ads promoting greater awareness of the most common type of cancer in women, aside from skin cancer.

cancerWhile scientists believe that most cancers are caused by a series of genetic mutations that develop during a person's lifetime, they estimate that five to 10 percent of all cancers are associated with a single inherited gene mutation that passes down in families.

"Some women are fearful that they may have breast cancer running in their families," says Jess Thoene, director of the Hayward Genetics Center at Tulane University Health Sciences Center.

"We encourage anyone who is concerned about cancer in their family to consult their doctor about genetic testing."

The Hayward Genetics Center offers comprehensive diagnostic and counseling services for people concerned that cancer may run in their families.

"By identifying a person with an increased risk of cancer, we may reduce the occurrence of cancer through clinical management strategies, such as tamoxifen taken to prevent breast cancer and colonoscopy for early detection of colon cancer," says Thoene. "This approach may improve that person's health outcome or quality of life through the benefit of the information."

Some people inherit changes in a cancer-associated gene from their parents. Since the DNA of a number of genes needs to be altered for a cell to become cancerous, an alteration in just one cancer-associated gene doesn't cause cancer by itself. But such an inherited DNA-change places people who have it one step closer to cancer and their risk of certain types of cancer is higher than average.

These include breast cancer, colon cancer, lymphoma and leukemia. Having an altered cancer-associated gene does not necessarily mean that a person will develop cancer. The additional changes necessary for cancer to develop may not occur. Furthermore, taking preventive steps can lower cancer risk, says Kelly Jackson, certified genetic counselor.

"We counsel people before they receive testing, to determine whether or not it makes sense for that particular individual. Then, if the person decides to receive the testing, we help them understand the results of their test. Our testing provides a number that indicates the percentage of increased risk that person has of getting a particular type of cancer."

The Hayward Genetics Center is staffed with board-certified clinical geneticists who work as a team with two board-certified genetic counselors to provide diagnostic testing, genetic counseling and management of genetic disorders, including familial and acquired cancers. For more information about the cancer genetic testing services at the Hayward Genetics Center, call 988-5229.

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Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000