Your body is made up of 20 to 25,000 different genes, which you inherited from your parents. A very small error in a gene is called a mutation. Some mutations are harmless, but some can cause abnormal cell behavior. When a cell’s behavior is out of control and leads to harm to the rest of the body, the cell is termed “cancerous.”
If you have a mutation of the BRCA gene, you have a significantly increased chance of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer. Research has identified additional genes that, when mutated, give similar breast cancer risk elevation. These include BRCA1 and BRCA2, BARD1, ATM, PALB2, CHEK2 and RAD 51.
You may suspect that a gene mutation is present in your family if family members have a higher than average number of cancers, have an earlier than average age of cancer occurence, or have specific subtypes of cancers. Confirmation of a gene mutation may be determined by a simple test.
When a mutation that leads to increased breast cancer risk is identified, some patients may consider a prophylactic mastectomy — removal of the breast tissue before cancer has a chance to develop.
Dr. Howard‘s own family has experience with the BRCA gene, and he has substantial interest in this aspect of his practice. In addition, Dr. Howard is a strong supporter of groups such as Bright Pink that provide additional support for women with increased risk for breast or ovarian cancer.
Northwestern Medicine practice locations in the north shore, Lake Forest, Glenview, and Chicago