Genetic Testing for Breast Cancer

Use genetic testing to learn the facts about your breast cancer risk.

Breast cancer genetic testing -- or testing for the genes that cause breast cancer -- is a relatively recent development that can have significant implications for patients. We believe genetic testing can play an important role in empowering you to make decisions about your care.

Our Department of Genetics is a leader in Michigan and the U.S. in the genetic analysis of a wide range of diseases.

How can genetics increase my risk for breast cancer?

Most breast cancer cases occur by chance -- without any previously identified risk factors. However, an estimated 5 to 10 percent of breast cancer cases are hereditary. Changes (inherited mutations) in two cancer-sensitive genes called breast cancer 1 (BRCA1) and breast cancer 2 (BRCA2) cause these inherited cancers. Each year, about 16,000 new cases of breast cancer and ovarian cancer occur in people with changes in their BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.

Not everyone who has changes in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene will develop cancer. Still, experts associate the presence of these genes with a greater risk of developing breast cancer. Both men and women have these genes, so changes in these genes can be passed down from either parent. We may suggest genetic testing if you have a personal and/or family history of:

Should I undergo genetic testing for breast cancer?

Genetic testing can help us identify if a person is at increased risk of breast cancer. Risk reduction and early detection are the best defenses against breast cancer. There are several important reasons you may want to check your breast cancer risk with genetic testing, such as:

  • Awareness of inherited risk: Some people diagnosed with breast cancer may choose genetic testing to help their children and grandchildren become more aware of their cancer risks.
  • Cancer risk reduction: Early detection is the best defense against cancer. People who know they are at higher risk for cancer can make informed decisions.
  • Choosing care pathways: Finding a genetic change in a patient with breast and/or ovarian cancer may help guide important healthcare decisions.

In some cases, people who are at greater risk of breast cancer may wish to talk with their doctors about preventive mastectomy or other treatment.

Genetic testing for men with breast cancer

Only about one in 100 patients with breast cancer is male. However, mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes are present in virtually all cases of breast cancer in men.

Male patients with breast cancer -- and their relatives -- may want to talk to their doctors about genetic counseling regarding cancer risk, as well as appropriate prevention or monitoring strategies to minimize risk.

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