New guidelines on genetic testing for breast cancer

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Monday, October 14, 2019
New guidelines on genetic testing for breast cancer
New guidelines on genetic testing for breast cancer: Alicia Vitarelli reports during Action News at 4pm on October 14, 2019.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Every year, we learn more and more about the role of genetics in cancer.

In August, the government changed its guidelines on who should be getting genetic testing for breast cancer. Experts say the new recommendations could help more Americans in Beating the Odds of Breast Cancer.

When Angelina Jolie revealed she'd had a double mastectomy to prevent breast cancer, it ignited a global conversation on genetic testing.

The cancer deaths of her mother and aunt led her to get tested and discover she carried the high-risk BRCA gene mutation.

This summer, a government task force sparked a new conversation.

"That more women had to be tested for the BRCA mutation, BRCA 1 and 2," says Dr. Richard Wender, the chief cancer control officer of the American Cancer Society.

Dr. Wender says in the past, only women with family histories of breast, ovarian,and some other cancers were urged to get tested. Now, personal history matters, too.

"Now, we're realizing that if an individual has had breast or ovarian cancer, that alone puts them in a high enough risk category to justify BRCA testing," said Dr. Wender.

A negative test usually means other family members needn't be tested.

But -

"If BRCA's in the family, it's not just the women who get tested, it's the male relatives as well," he said.

Both genders can inherit the mutation equally, plus researchers have found in recent years that BRCA mutations drive some prostate cancers.

Another gene, PALB-2, also plays a role in breast cancer, but the exact degree is still being studied.

The giant Cancer Prevention Study 3 is now looking for all the genetic factors.

Dr. Wender says knowing genetic risks is important, because heightened screenings, lifestyle changes, and other actions can partially counter that heightened risk.

"The odds are good that it won't be a single gene," says Dr. Wender, adding, "But it may be a combination of a few mutations."

You can help fight breast cancer by lacing up your sneakers for the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk, this Sunday.

It's at Jack Curtis Stadium in Cooper River Park, in Pennsauken, N.J. The check-in is at 8:30 a.m. with the walk starting at 10 a.m.

To sign up, donate, or support your favorite walk team, CLICK HERE.