A study found that Hispanic women are more likely to have an abnormal BRCA1 gene (BReast CAncer gene 1) than white women who are not Ashkenazi Jews. The study also found that African American women younger than 35 who were diagnosed with breast cancer were twice as likely to have an abnormal BRCA1 gene than Ashkenazi Jewish women.
Despite these results, non-white women don't get breast cancer gene testing very often. Doctors need to make a better effort to consider family history and the risks of genetic abnormalities among different ethnic groups when deciding who should be tested.
Most women who develop breast cancer do NOT have an inherited abnormal breast cancer gene. Abnormal BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes account for about 10% of all breast cancers. Women who do have an abnormal BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene have up to an 85% risk of developing breast cancer by age 70. Their risk for ovarian cancer is also higher.
The likelihood of having an abnormal breast cancer gene is substantially higher if:
- You have blood relatives on either side of the family who were diagnosed with breast cancer younger than age 50.
- There is both breast and ovarian cancer in your family, particularly if one woman has both.
- Women in your family have had cancer in both breasts.
- You are of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage.
- You are of African American heritage and have been diagnosed with breast cancer at age 35 or younger.
- A man in your family has been diagnosed with breast cancer.
No matter your race or ethnicity, your doctor should consider your individual risk of having an abnormal breast cancer gene and help you decide whether you should receive genetic counseling and testing. This should be based not only on your ethnic background, but also on your individual personal and family medical history.
Visit the Breastcancer.org Breast Cancer Risk Factors: Genetics page to learn more about breast cancer genes, assessing your genetic risk, and deciding whether breast cancer gene testing makes sense for YOU.