The purpose of genetic screening for breast cancer is to test for mutations of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which normally help discourage tumor development in the breast tissue. When the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes become mutated, they no longer discourage tumor growth, thus increasing one’s risk of developing breast cancer. Genetic screening for breast cancer normally involves analyzing a blood sample for evidence of BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations. This process has several benefits, including giving those without the mutation peace of mind and allowing those with the mutation to take steps to reduce the risk of breast cancer. It must be noted, however, that the test can also negatively impact one’s emotional health, and therefore requires careful consideration and preparation.
One potential benefit of genetic screening for breast cancer is the peace of mind it can afford those whose blood does not show evidence of BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations. This test is generally given only to those considered to have a heightened risk of developing breast cancer based on personal or family history. Without genetic screening, a high-risk individual may find herself frequently worrying over whether or not she is likely to develop breast cancer. While screening cannot definitively determine whether breast cancer will eventually develop, it provides a good indicator of one’s risk level.
Genetic screening for breast cancer also has important benefits for those who test positive for BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations. Once an individual has confirmed that she has a significant chance of developing breast cancer, she can work with her doctor to enact a risk-reducing plan. For instance, she may begin having regular mammograms, start taking anti-cancer medications, or even have her breasts surgically removed, a procedure known as preventive mastectomy. Further, she can alert close family members to her screening results, potentially encouraging them to seek screening.
It must be noted that genetic screening for breast cancer can also have some negative consequences. A positive result may cause anxiety, depression, or anger in both the individual who has been tested as well as her loved ones. Conversely, a negative result in an individual whose family members tested positive for BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations can create feelings of guilt and sadness. It is important to consider these potential consequences before seeking genetic screening for breast cancer. Often, an individual seeking screening is required to speak to a genetic counselor both before and after the test to prepare for and then process the results.