Breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women, but only 5-10 percent of breast cancer cases are hereditary. Of those cases, roughly 20-25 percent are linked to mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes (BRCA stands for BReast CAncer susceptibility).
View the infographic below for more on the genetics of breast cancer.
By Alexi Wright, MD, MPH
Although there are two main types of cervical cancer, known as adenocarcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, they’ve generally been treated as one disease, with the same approach to treatment. In a recent study, my colleagues and I surveyed the DNA in both types of cervical cancer cells to see if there were any differences. Such variations may help explain why the two types sometimes behave the way they do, and guide us toward treatments that work best in one type or the other.
By Richard Saltus
Physicians have long recognized that the same disease can behave differently from one patient to another, and that there is no one-size-fits-all treatment.
In cancer, chemotherapy might dramatically shrink one lung tumor but prove ineffective against the same type of tumor in a different patient – even though tissue samples look identical under the microscope. Side effects and appropriate dosage may vary from patient to patient as well.
The goal of personalized medicine is to match a treatment to the unique characteristics of an individual patient: his or her personal and family medical history, age, body size, and other physical characteristics, and medical test results. But fundamentally, it is the DNA blueprint within cells that strongly influences a person’s risks of disease, how illnesses play out, which drugs are likely to be most effective and with the fewest side effects. This is where the newest phase of personalized medicine is heading.
There are many decisions parents face after testing for genetic cancer risk, including whether to tell their children and how to approach the conversation.
If you decide to talk to your children about the test results, allow yourself some time to process the information; you want to be calm and clear when you talk with them. Remember that you know your children best and there are no set rules for talking to kids about genetic tests.
When Angelina Jolie underwent a preventative double mastectomy earlier this year, this issue of cancer risk and genetics made front-page headlines. Jolie, who announced the operation in a New York Times op-ed, tested positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation and learned she had an 87 percent risk of developing breast cancer.
Jolie’s announcement left many women wanting to know more: What is a gene mutation? Should I undergo genetic testing? What should I do if my tests are positive?