All in the Family? Genetics and Breast Cancer

According to Melissa Dempsey, lead genetic counselor at Parkview Genetic Counseling, breast cancer affects one in eight women. That said, Dempsey says women who have a history of breast cancer in their family should notice:

Anyone in your family who has had breast cancer before the age of 50.

Multiple people in your family with breast cancer, or anyone who has had it multiple times.

The nearness of the relative with cancer: “…the closer the relative, the more genes you share,” says Dempsey. Likewise, the younger your family member was when diagnosed, the more cause for concern.

If you have these additional risks factors, then ask your primary care physician if it makes sense for you to speak with a genetic counselor about genetic testing. If such tests reveal that you are at a higher risk for breast cancer, there are two recommended courses of action. Both options have proven to yield about the same survival rate, says Dempsey.

The first option would be increased screenings: an annual mammogram supplemented by an MRI every six months from the age of 25 on. While this will not prevent cancer, it would allow early detection and treatment by surgery and chemotherapy in the event of cancer.

The second option is one taken by actress Angelina Jolie (based on her genetic testing results) that may seem radical to some: a preventative double mastectomy. This eliminates the cancer risk and gives some a greater peace of mind. The course of action you choose is, of course, personal and ultimately up to you.

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About Drema Drudge

Drema Drudge received her MFA in Creative Writing at Spalding University and has had her fiction most recently published in The Louisville Review, Mused, ATG, Mother Earth News, and Penumbra. She is a frequent contributor to the popular Chicken Soup for the Soul series. Drema is married to musician Barry Drudge. They have two grown children, Mia and Zack. Feel free to visit Drema's website where she explores her passion for writing about art at

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