More women may need breast cancer gene test, U.S. guidelines say

Recommendations aimed at women who’ve been treated for BRCA-related cancers and are now cancer-free

This undated fluorescence-coloured microscope image made available by the National Institutes of Health in September 2016 shows a culture of human breast cancer cells. (Ewa Krawczyk/National Cancer Institute via AP)

More women may benefit from gene testing for hereditary breast or ovarian cancer, especially if they’ve already survived cancer once, an influential health group recommended Tuesday.

At issue are genes called BRCA1 and BRCA2. When they’re mutated, the body can’t repair damaged DNA as well, greatly increasing the chances of breast, ovarian and certain other cancers. Gene testing allows affected women to consider steps to lower their risk, such as when actress Angelina Jolie underwent a preventive mastectomy several years ago.

Most cancer isn’t caused by BRCA mutations — they account for 5% to 10% of breast cancers and 15% of ovarian cancers — so the gene tests aren’t for everyone. But mutations cluster in families, and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has long recommended that doctors screen women who have relatives with BRCA-related cancers and refer those who might benefit from gene testing to a genetic counsellor to help them decide.

Tuesday, the task force expanded that advice, telling primary care doctors they should also assess women’s risk if:

— They previously were treated for breast or other BRCA-related cancers including ovarian, fallopian tube or peritoneal cancers, and now are considered cancer-free.

— Their ancestry is prone to BRCA mutations, such as Ashkenazi Jewish women.

Why screen breast cancer survivors? After all, they already know there’s a risk of recurrence.

READ MORE: B.C. oncologist changing the face of breast cancer treatment

Take, for example, someone who had a tumour removed in one breast in their 40s a decade ago, when genetic testing wasn’t as common. Even this many years later, a BRCA test still could reveal if they’re at risk for ovarian cancer — or at higher than usual risk for another tumour in their remaining breast tissue, explained task force member Dr. Carol Mangione of the University of California, Los Angeles. And it could alert their daughters or other relatives to a potential shared risk.

“It’s important to test those people now,” Mangione said. “We need to get the word out to primary care doctors to do this assessment and to make the referrals.”

Private insurers follow task force recommendations on what preventive care to cover, some at no out-of-pocket cost under rules from former President Barack Obama’s health care law. The recommendations were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

RELATED: Breast cancer survivor collects famous bands’ guitar strings for charity

Cancer groups have similar recommendations for BRCA testing, and increasingly urge that the newly diagnosed be tested, too, because the inherited risk can impact choices about surgery and other treatment.

Lauran Neergaard, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

VIDEO: Internet famous Yukon-based bhangra dancer explores Vancouver Island

Gurdeep Pandher spreads joy through dance, forms cross-cultural connections amid pandemic

Build a new pool or fix the old? Port Hardy mayor wades in

‘… whatever we do going forward we want the support of the community’

Fear and ignorance have spiked racism in the province: B.C’s human rights commissioner

Kasari Govender has been virtually interacting with citizens in remote, rural areas to address concerns of discrimination

COVID-19 tests come back negative in remote First Nation community

“There are no suspected cases in the community at this time.”

QUIZ: Do you know the truth?

In what has been described as a post-truth era, how much do you know about truth and lies?

Unofficial holidays: the weird and wonderful things people celebrate around the world

On any given day of the year, there are several strange, silly or serious holidays to observe

Missing teen visiting Courtenay found safe

She had last been seen going for a walk on Aug. 6

Moving on: Tanev scores 11 seconds into OT as Canucks oust Wild

Vancouver beats Minnesota 5-4 to move into first round of NHL playoffs

Fitness non-profit challenges citizens to invent a game to be physically active

The campaign was launched after a study showed only 4.8 per cent of children and youths in Canada met required standards of the 24-hour movement guidelines

Gene editing debate takes root with organic broccoli, new UBC research shows

Broccoli is one of the best-known vegetables with origins in this scientific haze

VIDEO: U.S. Air Force pilot does fly-by for B.C. son amid COVID border separation

Sky-high father-son visit plays out over White Rock Pier

3 Vancouver police officers test positive for COVID after responding to large party

Union president says other officers are self-isolating due to possible exposure

New mothers with COVID-19 should still breastfeed: Canada’s top doctor

Dr. Theresa Tam made the recommendation during World Breastfeeding Awareness Week

Most Read