We’ve been hearing a lot about what scientists are learning concerning genes. They don't just give you your eye color or make you tall or short.
They can also predispose you to an illness -- like breast or ovarian cancer. It's a scary thought that you could have a genetic time bomb ticking inside you.
The good news is that genes -- at least the key ones we know about right now -- are responsible for these cancers only about 10 percent of the time.
But that begs the question: How do you know if you are genetically at risk?
Knowing your risk can lead to early detection or even preventive measures.
A look at your family history is the first place to start.
Did a family member develop one of these cancers? Did more than one of them develop cancer?
If so, that's important to discuss with your doctor. A next step could be seeing a genetic counselor and, possibly, to have a genetic test that looks for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, the "bad guys," in this case.
If the test comes back positive you can be monitored carefully. Some women who had already developed breast cancer have chosen to have their ovaries and breasts removed.
They did not want to live with the worry. That is an aggressive approach, but understandable.
Again, having the breast or ovarian cancer gene is unlikely. But it is more likely in some groups such as in Jewish women of Eastern European decent.
Recently, I interviewed a gynecologic oncologist, Dr. Kathryn McGonigle, from Seattle, who specializes in helping women with these genetic predispositions.
We also talked with her patient, Jane Berkman, who feels genetic testing saved her life.
You can listen to or download the podcast, “Genetic Testing for Breast and Ovarian Cancer Risk” from Patient Power at this link: http://www.patientpower.info/program/genetic-testing-for-breast-and-ovarian-cancer-risk/
No doubt more genetic "bad guys" will be discovered and there will be more tests that look for them to try to keep healthy people healthy. It's an evolving field.