Thursday, January 22, 2009

Math Lesson

Back in December I was supposed to have an appointment with the hereditary cancer specialist at Swedish. Bring on some ice and snow and my appointment went by the wayside. I was able to reschedule the appointment for January 13th. Larry went with me and we spent an hour or so going through our entire individual family histories. It's hard to keep track of everyone's illnesses and ages!

After an extensive discussion, we decided that I would be tested for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. It is actually a mutation of the gene that is being tested for. Despite what most people think about risk, having a mutation of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene accounts for less than 10% of breast cancers.

Yesterday I received a call from Dr. Resta-the walking encyclopedia of hereditary cancers. My results are in and I do NOT have the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation known to drastically increase the risk of breast and/or ovarian cancer.

I am happy to know that I am not passing on a genetic predisposition to breast cancer to my daughters. People who carry the mutation have up to an 80% risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer.

So what does this mean for me and my children? The average woman has roughly a 12% chance of developing cancer in her lifetime. As someone who has been diagnosed with breast cancer already, my risk is now roughly double that-about 26% of a recurrence or a new diagnosis. Chemo, radiation and tamoxifen have have reduced that number even further to about 16%.

Because their mother has been diagnosed, my children now have about a 20% risk of developing breast cancer. However, since they have not yet reached puberty, this is a very rough number.

My sister, having come from the same gene pool and growing up in the same environment also has an increased risk. Her risk is now about 20% as well. Now we all have our numbers to do what we will with. Numbers are only numbers and even people with an 80% chance of developing breast cancer have a 20% chance of NOT developing it.

I have an 84% chance of NOT developing cancer again and I accept that number. However, I still am looking forward to the day that I can say I have a 0% chance of being diagnosed again and that my children and any other women on the planet have a 0% chance of developing it as well. Zero is my new favorite number.

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