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Understanding Your Cancer Risk

Understanding Your Cancer Risk - Breast and Colon Cancer

Breast and Ovarian Cancer

Breast cancer affects more than 180,000 women and 1,600 men each year. A woman's lifetime risk for developing breast cancer is about 12%. The lifetime risk for ovarian cancer is 1.4%.

Some breast and ovarian cancers are caused by inherited genes known as BRCA1 or BRCA2. People who have a genetic alteration in one of these genes are at significantly higher risk for breast, ovarian, and other cancers.

People who have genetic alterations in BRCA1 or BRCA2 have a 50% chance to pass this on to their children. This can be passed down from the mother or father. BRCA1 and BRCA2 alterations have been found in all ethnic groups but are more common in the eastern European (Ashkenazi) Jewish population. It is believed that approximately 1 in 40 (2.4%) individuals who are of Eastern European Jewish descent carry one of the three alterations.

Personal or Family History - "Red Flags" for increased breast cancer risks:

If you, or a member of your family, have had any of the following conditions, you are at higher risk:

  • Breast cancer in both breasts (bilateral)
  • Breast cancer before the age of 50
  • Ovarian cancer at any age
  • Male breast cancer
  • Diagnoses of 2 separate cancers in a single individual (ex. Breast and ovarian cancer, or 2 separate breast cancer diagnoses)
  • Ashkenazi Jewish descent and breast cancer
  • >More than 2 family members diagnosed with the same type of cancer within the same lineage
  • BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic alterations

Colon Cancer and Rectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States. It ranks second to lung cancer as a cause of cancer death. In 2008, colon cancer was expected to cause about 49,960 deaths (24,260 men and 25,700 women). In the general population, one's lifetime risk of colon cancer is roughly 5% or 1 in 19. A high fat, low fiber diet may increase the risk of colorectal cancer.

Having inflammatory bowel disease increases one's risk of getting colon cancer to 15-40%. We will work with your gastroenterologist on strategies for surveillance and risk reduction.

Some colon cancers, especially those diagnosed before the age of 50, are associated with an inherited predisposition to cancer. Hereditary Non-Polyposis Colon Cancer (HNPCC) and Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP) are 2 such inherited syndromes which increase one's chances of getting colon cancer to more than 60-80%. In one situation which runs in some families, the risk is nearly 100% if action is not taken early. If you are at increased risk, we would test for APC mutation, MSI, or MLH1/MSH2, the genetic alterations associated with these cancer syndromes.

Let us help you figure out if you are at increased risk.

Personal or Family History - "Red Flags" for increased colon cancer risk:

  • Presence of inflammatory bowel disease
  • Colon cancer before the age of 50
  • Personal history of colon cancer or adenomas (polyps)
  • Family member who has tested positive for one of the above genetic alterations