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What Are Breast Cancer Genes?

Learn everything you need to know about breast cancer genes in this Howcast video with expert Marisa Weiss, MD.


Hi, I'm Doctor Marisa Weiss, president and founder of I'm also a practicing oncologist, and mom, and also a breast cancer survivor. So I'm happy to share information with you today that could help protect your life against breast cancer. Most people think that breast cancer is all about family history and the genes that you could have inherited from your mother or your father. But as it turns out only about ten percent or fewer cases of breast cancer are related to a single rare gene that produces a high risk, like BRCA1 or BRCA2. In addition about twenty percent of women who get breast cancer have a family history that's not explained by one of those genes. Which means that most women who get breast cancer don't have a family history, did not inherit a gene that made their risk go up. In fact, all women are at elevated risk, even the thin, vegetarian yoga instructor that seems to be doing everything right. And if you did inherit a gene like BRCA1 or 2, it just means that you inherited an elevated risk, meaning that when you were born, during your life you're more prone to getting breast cancer than someone who doesn't have a gene. But in order for cancer to occur other genetic changes have to take place before breast cancer can happen. And it's also true that our genes haven't changed for many many many years, so the higher incidence or rate of breast cancer that we're seeing now compared to 50 to 100 years ago is not because our genes have changed. It's not because more women are inheriting genes and they didn't before, and it's also not because the genes are more aggressive maybe than they were before. The reason that breast cancer has become so much more common today than it used to be is because our environment has changed: the environment outside our body and the environment inside our body. So for example, the obesity epidemic creates an internal change in your body's environment that makes you more prone to developing breast cancer. The fact that more girls are starting their periods early, puberty happening earlier, explains part of why there's elevated risk. Plus all the chemicals that are out there in the environment, pesticides, plastics, detergents, nylons, repurposing of petroleum products, all those chemicals can look like, act like, smell like estrogen and growth stimulation to a breast cell. So, the bottom line is, yes, that yes, breast cancer is the most common cancer to affect women, and we're all at risk, but the good news is that there are changes that we can make in our everyday life to reduce our risk of breast.

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