For women diagnosed with cancer at a young age, hereditary disease is a consideration. Most cancers are caused by a combination of different factors. There are risk factors that can increase cancer diagnosis, including family history. For breast cancer, some women inherit an altered gene that can increase their risk, this is known as the BReast CAncer gene – BRCA1 or BRCA2. In Singapore, the likelihood of women developing breast cancer in their lifetime is 5%, but women with a family history will have twice the risk.
The BRCA gene is responsible for producing tumour suppressor proteins which are needed to maintain stability of cells. Without this gene cells are liable to become unstable because they cannot repair, which can lead to cancer cells developing and the growth of tumours. Women who test positive for the BRCA1/2 gene are at a higher risk of breast and ovarian cancer, as well as triple negative breast cancer – a more aggressive form of cancer. If tested positive for the BRCA gene, women should consult their oncologist regarding risk reduction surgery such as a mastectomy.