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Breast Cancer Resource
Risk Factors: Genetic

Risk Factors: Genetic

Genes are the blueprints for your body and can be found in every cell. Genes determine the color of your eyes, your height and affect other functions of your body. Genes tell the cells in your body how to grow, perform their daily processes and heal themselves. Sometimes genes are damaged and don’t work as they should. The damage is called a mutation.

Mutations can be inherited (you are born with it) or spontaneous. Spontaneous mutations result when something goes wrong in one of your cells. The damaged cell passes the mutation on when it divides to create new cells. As the abnormal cells multiply, they create a mass or growth called a tumor.

Scientists have identified multiple genes that when mutated can develop into breast cancer. including BRCA1 and BRCA2. Everyone has these genes but some people have mutated copies of one or both genes which increases their risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer in women and breast and prostate cancer in men. Despite great public attention, inherited mutations account for only 5 to 10 percent of all breast cancers. Most breast cancers are due to spontaneous mutations.

If you have a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer, you may want to consider genetic testing. Before undergoing testing, a genetic counselor will review your family history of cancer and recommend whether or not to be tested. A simple blood test can determine the presence of the mutation of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes. Women with genetic mutations or other factors that increase their risk for cancer are sometimes called “previvors.”

Additional Resources: Genetic Testing
Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered (FORCE): Cancer Previvors
FORCE: Risk Management
Susan G. Komen for the Cure®: Family History & Genetic Risks section
(On the home page, under the"Understanding Breast Cancer” drop-down menu, select “Risk Factors and Prevention.” On the left sidebar, select “Family History/Genetic Risks.”)