Mother and Son Share Breast Cancer Diagnosis, Mother's Day

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A mother and son who were both diagnosed with breast cancer will be sharing a cancer-free Mother’s Day. Cedric Skillom and his mother, Lynda, both carry the BRCA2 gene, which places individuals at greatly increased risk of developing breast cancer.

The BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are known as tumor suppressors. In normal cells, these genes help prevent uncontrolled cell growth. If the genes mutate, they are associated with the development of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. National Cancer Institute notes that a woman’s risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer is greatly increased if she inherits either mutation. BRCA1 mutation may also increase a woman’s risk of developing cervical, colon, pancreatic, and uterine cancers, while BRCA2 mutations may additionally increase the risk of bile duct, gallbladder, pancreatic, and stomach cancers, and melanoma.

Men who inherit BRCA1 mutations have an increased risk of breast cancer and possibly early-onset prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer, and testicular cancer. However, the BRCA2 gene mutation is more strongly associated with male breast, pancreatic, and prostate cancers.

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The chances that a breast cancer is associated with BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations is greatest in families that have a history of multiple cases of breast cancer, cases of both breast and ovarian cancer, family members who have two primary cancers, or an Ashkenazi Jewish background. While the lifetime risk of breast cancer is 12 percent among women in the general population, in women who have a mutated BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene, that risk is five times greater.

While 55-year-old Lynda was receiving treatment at Loyola University Health System, she was told that she carried the BRCA2 mutation. When her son, a 29-year-old father of two, was given the news, he underwent testing and discovered that he also carried the mutated gene. The discovery of precancerous tissue in his chest prompted him to undergo a double mastectomy. Lynda later also underwent the same surgery to prevent recurrence of the disease.

Breast cancer is much less common in men because their breast duct cells are less developed than those in women and their breast cells are not exposed to the growth-stimulating effects of female hormones. The American Cancer Society estimated that about 1,910 new cases of invasive breast cancer were diagnosed in men in 2009 and that about 440 men would die of the disease. For men, the lifetime risk of getting breast cancer is about 1 in 1,000, and the BRCA2 gene is believed to be responsible for about 10 percent of breast cancer cases in men.

Oncologist and hematologist Patricia Robinson, MD, who treated Lynda at Loyola, noted that men who have inherited the BRCA2 gene should be aware that they are at greater risk for breast cancer. “A double mastectomy is often the best option for long-term prognosis for these patients,” she said. This mother and son who are now free of breast cancer on this Mother's Day hope so, too.

SOURCES:
American Cancer Society
Loyola University Health System news release, May 4, 2010
National Cancer Institute

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