Mind & Body
Breast Cancer Awareness
10/2/2017 10:27:43 PM
Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer: The Power of Genetic Testing
by Lauren Atterbery Cesar

Knowledge is power, and what could be more powerful than finding out if you have genetic risk factors that cause breast cancer? Knowing this could change everything when it comes to the "c-word.” If you knew that you had a greater risk for breast cancer, you would likely take steps to get frequent screenings while implementing preventative measures. As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and with any type of cancer, knowing your personal risk factors is key. 

This interest in "knowing,” along with advances in genetic testing have led to the increased popularity of genetic testing. Some forms of genetic testing for cancer risk are even available online. If you are unsure of what to expect going through an online company, and you’ve taken an Ancestry DNA test or a 23 and Me test in the past, the process is quite similar. You simply give a saliva sample that can be analyzed and a report will be generated and sent to you about your specific genes including any abnormalities you have or genetic risks you are carrying. 

Companies like Color are based online and for around $150.00, Color’s Hereditary Cancer Test will provide you with an analysis of 30 genes, including two of the most common that could show signs of mutations that indicated an increased risk of breast cancer. It will also show you an analysis of your personal and family health history to inform your results, personalized cancer risk information and screening guidelines, and information on how your results could impact your family. 

"The downside of online genetic testing for breast cancer is that your results may cause you to worry when there is no cause,” says Dr. Windy Dean-Colomb, MD, medical oncologist and director of hematology and oncology at CHRISTUS St. Patrick Hospital. "Just because you have a specific gene mutation does not mean that you are going to be diagnosed with breast cancer. It could just mean that you need to be more cautious in your lifestyle and have frequent screenings based on advice from your physician. There are other factors to consider. That’s why we advise people to only have genetic testing under the care and advice of their doctor, where counseling is part of the process, for you and your family members.” 

A native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Dr. Dean-Colomb completed a fellowship in oncology at M.D. Anderson in Houston, Texas, where she distinguished herself in the area of breast cancer research. This is an area of focus she continues in her new position at CHRISTUS St. Patrick, where genetic testing and counseling are offered to patients. 

It is important to realize that people who develop breast cancer do not always have a family history of it. Dr. Dean-Colomb explains that all cancers, including breast cancer, are caused by changes, or mutations, to critical molecular structures in the body called genes. These mutations may be caused randomly, by outside influences such as pollution, smoking or sun exposure, or exist because they were inherited. Not everyone who is born with a gene mutation will develop cancer. Inherited gene mutations may be passed from either parent and may increase the cancer risk in both women and men. The risk from inherited gene mutations varies greatly, depending on the abnormality and other factors.

There are specific genes in women known for mutating and increasing the risk of certain cancers, for example breast cancer, including BRCA1, BRCA2, TP53, and PALB2, although new ones continue to be discovered, according to Dr. Dean-Colomb. "Keep in mind that inherited mutations known to increase the risk of breast cancer are rare in the general population, accounting for only about 10 percent of all breast cancers diagnosed in the United States. Some slightly increase breast cancer risk, while others, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2, greatly increase the risk.” 

She also emphasizes that women are not the only ones at risk for breast cancer; men can suffer from breast cancer, too. Breast cancer in men is often detected at a later stage than it is in women because men are less likely to be suspicious of abnormalities in that area of their body. With later detection, cancer can spread quickly before medical action is taken. 

"As a physician, I feel there are specific criteria for who should consider genetic testing for breast cancer,” says Dr. Dean-Colomb. "It is certainly a valuable tool that increases our knowledge, but it is one that is best guided by a physician who can help you understand the process, results and any follow-up needed.”

For more information on genetic testing at CHRISTUS St. Patrick Hospital, call their Oncology Nurse Navigator at (337) 431-7916.

Breast Cancer Myths & Facts
by Christine Fisher

There are many myths and half-truths about breast cancer; it is one of the most misunderstood diseases. "What women perceive as factual may not be. For example, many women think a lump definitely signifies the presence of cancer, but 10% of all women diagnosed with the disease did not have a lump or pain,” said Stephen Castleberry, MD, surgeon with Sulphur Surgical Clinic and medical staff member of West Calcasieu Cameron Hospital. 

Dr. Castleberry received specialized breast cancer treatment training known as sentinel node biopsy from Scott and White Medical Center/Texas A&M Health Sciences Center in Temple, Texas. He talks with patients every day who have erroneous ideas about their risk for breast cancer, what may have caused it, and how it can be treated. The truth is that scientists still do not know what causes breast cancer, only that certain factors such as obesity or too much alcohol may increase risk.  

Dr. Castleberry said, "It’s important to get the facts out to the public. There are many misconceptions.” Here, he helps separate fact from fiction:   

Myth: Having a family history of breast cancer means you will get it.
Fact: While a family history is a risk factor, most women who have breast cancer have no family history. But if the family history is a first-degree relative, meaning a parent, sibling or child, your risk of developing the disease doubles. 

Myth: Having no family history of breast cancer means you won’t get it.
Fact: Just as a family history doesn’t guarantee that you will get breast cancer, having no family history doesn’t offer protection from it either.

Myth: A mammogram can cause breast cancer to spread.
Fact: A mammogram is one of the best tools available for the early detection of breast cancer. It cannot cause cancer to spread, nor can the pressure put on the breast from the mammogram. 

Myth: Antiperspirants and deodorants cause breast cancer.
Fact: Researchers at the National Cancer Institute say there is no conclusive evidence linking the use of underarm antiperspirants or deodorants with breast cancer. 

Myth: Finding a lump in your breast means you have breast cancer.
Fact: If you find a lump in your breast or if you have any changes in your breast tissue, see your doctor. Eight out of 10 breast lumps are benign.

Myth: Men do not get breast cancer.
Fact: Each year, about 1,700 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer and 450 will die.

Myth: Wearing an underwire bra increases your risk of getting breast cancer.
Fact: Medical experts have debunked the claims that underwire bras compress the lymphatic system, causing toxins to accumulate and cause breast cancer. "Neither the type of bra nor its tightness has any connection to breast cancer risk,” said Dr. Castleberry. 

Myth: Breast implants can raise your cancer risk.
Fact: Women with breast implants are at no greater risk of getting breast cancer, according to research. Standard mammograms don’t always work as well on women with implants; so additional x-rays are sometimes needed to more fully examine breast tissue. 

Myth: The size of your breast is related to your risk for cancer.
Fact: There’s no connection between the size of a breast and your risk for cancer. "Very large breasts may be harder to examine than small breasts, but all women, regardless of breast size, should have regular screenings and checkups,” said Dr. Castleberry. 

Myth: Breast cancer always comes in the form of a lump.
Fact: A lump may indicate breast cancer, or it could be benign, but women should be alert for other signs of changes. These include skin irritation or dimpling, breast pain, thickening of the nipple or breast or discharge other than breast milk.

Myth: If you’re at risk for breast cancer, there’s little you can do.
Fact: Lifestyle changes make a tremendous impact on breast cancer. Losing weight, getting regular exercise, lowering or eliminating alcohol consumption, and being rigorous about self-breast examinations and clinical exams and mammograms will go a long way toward preventing breast cancer.  

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer for women worldwide, second only to skin cancer in the United States. "If you feel or see any changes in your breasts, check with your doctor. Every woman is unique. Getting information specific to your situation is always the best recommendation,” said Dr. Castleberry.

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