The Screen Project: Breast Cancer and BRCA Genes

Cancer is one of the most common diseases affecting Canadians today. In particular breast cancer is the most common cancer in Canadian women and it affects approximately one and nine. And in men prostate cancer will affect about one in eight men during their lifetime. The majority of cancers are what we call sporadic. This means that the cancer developed in individual for a reason that we don’t fully understand there’s no specific reason to explain why the cancer happened. However, about five to ten percent of cancers are actually hereditary and these are due to a change or a mutation in a particular gene. Individuals who carry these genetic changes are born with them. Sometimes they’re inherited or was passed down from one of their parents and this makes them more likely to develop certain types of cancer in their lifetime. It’s important to understand if you’re at higher risk of cancer due to an inherited mutation because we can help you and your doctor understand your risk of developing these certain types of cancers. There’s also many options available to reduce the risk of developing cancer, to detect cancer at an early stage, as well as identifying the most important treatments. Our bodies are made up of billions of cells. Each of these contains instructions or genes and BRCA1 and BRCA2 are two such genes. Everybody has two copies of BRCA1 and BRCA2 which we inherit from our parents. Their function is to help prevent cancer in specific parts of the body. However, if the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes are not working properly due to mutations, an increased risk of cancer results. In particular, women with the mutation have a very high risk of developing breast cancer, up to seventy percent. Also they have a forty percent risk of developing ovarian cancer. Men with a BCRA1 or 2 mutation have a risk of prostate cancer up to thirty or forty percent. However, there are many options available now to reduce cancer risks or to identify a cancer at an early stage, including through screening like mammography, MRIs, blood tests for men like PSA can prevent prostate cancer. And there are several surgical options we could use to prevent cancer before it develops.

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