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Genetic Changes Influence Breast Cancer Development and Survival

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What is the place of genetic testing in prevention of breast cancer? Roy Smith, MD, director of medical affairs and medical oversight at the National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project in Pittsburgh, answered that question for WebMD in an interview on the paper. He says, "Right now you'll get different opinions from different people, but what most women need to know is whether they have a family history of breast cancer. If the answer is yes, then you need to think about more aggressive surveillance."

Smith continues, "We're going to be hearing a lot more about mutations that are related to breast cancer, and women who have these mutations are getting scared. Some of them are saying, 'I have a family history of breast cancer, we need to take this breast off,' but the more conservative view is these women need to do regular breast self-exams and have regular mammograms. They also need to be reassured that just because you have a family history or a mutation, it doesn't mean you will necessarily develop breast cancer."

Vital Information:

  • Women who have the genetic mutation called BRCA are more likely to develop breast cancer before age 50, start treatment with more advanced disease, have lymph node involvement, experience tumor recurrence, and have shorter survival.
  • The presence of the mutation alone does not predict survival and should not affect treatment decisions following surgery.
  • A researcher suggests that women who have BRCA mutations undergo advanced surveillance starting at age 25, with self-breast exams each month, breast exams by a profession three to four times per year, and mammography.
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