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

Red Deer County has three new confirmed COVID-19 cases

Government says Alberta up to 1,181 total cases

Rimbey textile artists creating hand-made masks

Group has also been helped out by a local business

107 new cases of COVID-19 in Alberta, 5 additional deaths

More than 1,000 cases in Alberta total

WATCH: Town of Blackfalds released COVID-19 update video

Changes include Blackfalds Transfer Station hours of operation, BOLT schedules and staffing updates.

City of Lacombe announces BOLT Transit service change due to COVID-19

BOLT Transit is suspending its evening express route leaving from Red Deer at 8:24 p.m.

VIDEO: How doctors in Canada will decide who lives and dies if pandemic worsens

Officials in several provinces have been developing guides so that doctors don’t feel alone

A message from Central Alberta Co-op

Please remember to practice social distancing at all our locations.

‘The Charter still applies’: Canadians urged to monitor civil liberties during pandemic

Civil rights advocates say citizens need to be vigilant about how authorities are using new powers

Full World COVID-19 update: National Guard collect ventilators in New York; Spain, Italy improve

Comprehensive coronavirus update with news from around the world.

Trudeau announces more financial help for country’s most vulnerable

$40 million will go to Women and Gender Equality Canada

Feds pulled between bailing out oil and gas and moving to cleaner energy

Number of national environment organizations demanding no cash be spent to help oil companies

The inexact science involved in predicting the likely path of COVID-19

Staying home could be the difference between 6,000 deaths by April 30 or 1,600 deaths

Pandemic has shunted aside an array of Liberal initiatives, at least for now

It seems any fresh ideas will now have to find space in an already jammed queue

Most Read