Statistics show roughly one in eight women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of their lifetime. For many it can be deadly. Doctors say surviving it is hinged on early detection.
“It’s better to find out sooner than later,” said Charmaine Tyson, a two-time breast cancer survivor. She works for and mentors other survivors at Carolina’s Breast Friends, an organization which provides compassion and support to people going through breast cancer.
In addition to self-breast exams, which men and women are encouraged to do at home, there’s also an at-home test approved by the Food and Drug Administration that consumers can buy. This week, the FDA approved the genetic test by the company, 23andMe, which is part of its $199 Health and Ancestry product.
To take the test, you simply check a box and mail in your saliva, but doctors warn, it won’t test everyone, saying it only searches for three DNA mutations that are found most commonly in the Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jewish ancestry.
“This test is only testing three common mutations in a particular ethnic group,” said Sara Elrefai, Medical Director of genetics at Levine’s Cancer Institute.
Elrefai warns the test could lead to false reassurances.
“There are other genes besides BRCA1 and BRCA2 for breast cancer, and there are lots of other mutations on BRCA1 and BRCA2 that aren’t being tested. Having a negative result for this test does not mean you don’t have to worry about anything else,” said Elrefai.
Even for those of Jewish ancestry, Elrefai said advises reading the results with caution.
“Worst-case scenario is having somebody falsely believe something and acting on it.”