Every person with breasts needs to know this

Image: Jess and Ashley Hart, via Pink Hope

Today is Bright Pink Lipstick Day, and we hope you’re wearing pink lippie. But even if you’re not, this post is required reading.

Why? Because it’s time to have a conversation with your family about cancer. Wearing bright pink lipstick is all about encouraging women to kiss and tell.

Figuring out whether your great auntie had ovarian cancer might not be an easy conversation to have, but knowing your family history of breast cancer and ovarian cancer is the first step towards figuring out how at risk you might be. Because cancer isn’t just about bad luck – it can be in our genes.

What do you mean there are cancer genes?

  • One in 500 women in the general population carry a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation.
  • These hereditary gene mutations can be passed down through a mother or father’s side of the family. Usually the genes work as tumor suppressors and help prevent uncontrolled cell growth. But when these genes are mutated, carriers have an increased likelihood of developing breast or ovarian cancer.
  • Between 5-10% of all breast and ovarian cancers are caused by inheriting a copy of these mutated genes.
  • A woman carrying the gene will not definitely develop breast or ovarian cancer, but she will be much more likely to get it than other women without the gene  – with up to an 85% chance of developing breast cancer.

Can anyone be tested for the mutated genes?

  • If you’ve got a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, you should talk to your GP. They’ll refer you on to a specialist for testing.
  • If three or more of your blood relatives on the same side – sister, mother, auntie, grandmother – have had breast or ovarian cancer, this could mean you are a BRCA carrier.
  • In these instances, Family Cancer Clinics can help guide you through the process of finding out more, and it’s all covered by Medicare.

What happens if the test comes back negative?

  • If the test comes back negative, the woman is at the same risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer as the rest of the general population.
  • It is also possible for a test to come back inconclusive – in this case it may be possible the cancer in that family is from a gene mutation that has not been discovered yet. In fact, up to 70% of genetics tests come back inconclusive.

What happens if the test comes back positive?

  • Women who return a positive test result have inherited an increased risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer, and can face some difficult decisions.
  • Some women choose to have a preventative mastectomy, ovarian preventative surgery (removal of healthy fallopian tubes and ovaries) or a complete hysterectomy (removal of all reproductive organs).  The decision of preventative surgery, of course, is determined by the patient’s physical and psychological state.
  • Preventative surgery can reduce a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer by 90 per cent.
  • A positive preventative test result can also have implications for family members. Women and men can both carry mutated genes and there is a one in two chance in every pregnancy that a parent with faulty gene will pass the gene onto the child.

Here’s Pink Hope founder founder Krystal Barter talking with our publisher Mia Freedman about how her life changed after she discovered she was a BRCA carrier.

To find out more, or get support visit Pink Hope.

Did you wear bright pink lipstick today? Tell us your story!