Familial Breast Cancer by the Numbers

2014-02-04 12:00:00 AM

If you had the opportunity to confirm your risk of contracting breast cancer, would you? Dr. Steven Narod, director of Women’s College Research Institute’s Familial Breast Cancer Research Unit and part of the research team that discovered a genetic mutation that causes breast and ovarian cancer, says 80 to 90% of women and men want to be tested.
 
But what they do with the results of genetic testing is another story entirely.
 
Narod spoke to the emotional and physical journey of women who test positive for the BRCA genetic mutation at the Women for Women’s annual luncheon on November 20, 2013. Joining him in the panel discussion were Canadian journalist and breast cancer survivor Libby Znaimer and Anne Parker, one of the first women to be tested for the breast cancer gene and the inspiration for the movie Decoding Annie Parker.
 
Women who carry the BRCA genetic mutation face a 70% chance of contracting breast cancer and up to a 40% risk of developing ovarian cancer. The risk, however, can almost entirely be eliminated with surgery — the choice of 30-40% of women, Narod told the audience. Using a gene sequencing machine purchased with gifts to Women’s College Hospital Foundation, Narod and his team are leading a study that provides women under age 50 and newly diagnosed with breast cancer with a genetic test result within eight to 10 days.
 
“Knowing their risk can help women better decide what type of surgery is best for them,” he explains.
 
In Ontario, genetic testing is offered for free, but only to those who already have a diagnosis of breast or ovarian cancer or a strong family history of the diseases. Women’s College Hospital hopes to make testing available to everyone in Ontario within the next five years.
 
FACTS ABOUT GENETIC TESTING

  • 90% of the risk associated with the BRCA genes is developing the cancers themselves.
  • The BRCA genetic mutation has an especially high frequency among the Jewish community.
  • Surgery is the option of choice for 30-40% of Ontarians, 10% of women in France and 70% of women living in Holland.
  • The cancer-fighting medication, Tamoxifen, can reduce the risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer by 50%, yet only 10% of women choose the pill over preventative surgery.