"Breast cancer gene" may have implications for early cancer diagnosis

As science progresses to new levels, the predictive potential of genetic testing is being increasingly utilized in the medical field. One of the tools being used to prevent delayed diagnosis of breast cancer is DNA screening for the so-called "breast cancer gene."

BRCA gene mutation increases cancer risk, may warrant prevention options

It is well known that certain gene mutations increase the risk for developing breast cancer: the BRCA gene mutation accounts for between five and ten percent of breast cancer cases. For carriers of the gene, preventative therapies and/or careful cancer monitoring can be the difference between life and death.

Not every woman is tested for the BRCA gene mutation. However, women with a family history of breast cancer are often advised to obtain screening for the breast cancer gene.

Some women with the BRCA gene mutation never develop breast cancer. However, women with the mutation are about five times more likely to develop breast cancer compared to members of the general public; according to government estimates of lifetime risk, about 60 percent of women who have inherited a harmful BRCA mutation will develop breast cancer sometime during their lives.

A preventative mastectomy to remove tissue "at-risk" of developing breast cancer is one option for carriers of the BRCA mutation. Non-surgical options include chemoprevention (using natural or synthetic substances to reduce the risk of developing cancer) and regular screenings/MRI scans to detect any abnormalities early.

Doctors can be held accountable for failures that result in delayed cancer diagnosis

When deciding whether to get BRCA screening and how to address test results, patients typically rely heavily on the advice of physicians and other health care providers.

"Hereditary cancer needs to not only be on the radar of all women, men and families - but on doctors' radar, no matter their specialty," Amy Shainman told CNN in a recent interview. Ms. Shainman is an outreach coordinator for BRCA carrier resource group Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered. "The medical community as a whole needs the training/education on hereditary cancer so they can look for hereditary cancer signs in their patients, ask their patients the right questions and then advise those patients that fit the criteria to get genetic counseling," said Shainman.

Indeed, for many women, health outcomes are only as good as their doctors' advice. Doctors who improperly fail to follow up on BRCA screening, fail to adequately counsel patients or miss telltale cancer signs can cause delayed breast cancer diagnosis that can be devastating to patients.

If you or a family member has suffered because of a delayed breast cancer diagnosis, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. Talk to a medical malpractice attorney today to learn more.