New research shows more women are getting tested for BRCA1 and 2 mutations after actress Angelina Jolie revealed she had undergone a prophylactic mastectomy once she found out she was a carrier.
BRCA1 and 2 mutations dramatically increase the risk for breast and ovarian cancer. The mutations, which are found in about 2 – 4 percent of women, are more likely in those with a family history of breast and ovarian cancer and those with personal risk factors, such as Ashkenazi Jewish descent.
Kelly Morse, a licensed genetic counselor at ProMedica Cancer Institute, says our family history plays a crucial role in our overall health and well-being.
“Keeping a file with information about your family’s medical history should be a priority for everyone,” Morse said. “As a parent, passing down detailed notes about your ancestors’ health to your children can be an invaluable gift. Once a loved one is gone, it becomes very difficult to recall this vital data.”
Morse suggests patients begin with the following:
1. Start by making a list of your ancestors and immediate family members. It may be helpful to layout the information in a “family tree” format.Example: GrandparentsParentsSiblingsChildrenAunts/UnclesCousins
2. Next to each name write down any major health issues, especially cancer diagnoses in this case, and at what age.
3. It may also be helpful to include notes about your loved ones treatment journey. Including lab work and other tests can be especially helpful as well. These details can help tell the story and impact future care and treatment of you or your family.
A verbal interview or review of each patient’s family history is the first and most important step in every cancer genetic assessment Morse completes. These, and the answers to other questions she may ask, help to determine what management suggestions she makes as well as whether or not additional testing is suggested now or later.
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