SSM Health Medical Minute: Should you purchase a home test for the breast cancer gene?

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ST. LOUIS - In the past 30 years, awareness for breast cancer has vastly increased. A majority of women over the age of 40 schedule annual mammograms, women of all ages regularly administer self-exams in the shower, and millions wear pink during the month of October. What remains blurry to some are topics surrounding the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations. There is a new at home breast cancer gene test kit that breast surgeons warn can give you results, but if you don’t know how to interpret the results, you can get false confidence.

"The biggest thing I caution people with is with this testing is they are good, but if you don't know how to interpret the results, the information doesn't do you any good and sometimes that can make you panic when you don't need to panic," said Dr. Pamela Bunting, breast surgeon at SSM Health St. Clare Hospital in Fenton.

All genes are inherited from family members and sometimes mutations or changes can happen along the way. Women with BRCA mutations have a greatly increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer. It is important to note, according to the American Cancer Society, most women who get breast cancer do not have this mutation.

Since the number of breast cancers caused by a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation are small compared to the total number of breast cancers, testing to determine if a woman has this mutation is not for everyone. Genetic testing is a complex issue and it is recommended a woman meet with a genetic counselor or breast specialist that does genetic testing to discuss whether or not a genetic test is the right step for them and whether or not the meet the criteria for a test. It is also recommended that all testing be completed in a health care facility by professionals.

The first step for any woman should be speaking with her relatives about the history of breast and any other types of cancer in her family and then speaking to her primary care physician for more in-depth questions. If it is appropriate, they can recommend a qualified genetic professional.

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The SSM Health Medical Minute airs every Thursday at 7 PM on KPLR News 11 and at 9 PM on KTVI Fox 2 News.​