What Every Woman with Breast Cancer Should Know About Genetic Testing

What is hereditary breast cancer?

About 5-10% of breast cancers are caused by a mutation (alteration) in a gene. These gene mutations can be passed down from a mother or father to their children. Breast cancer genes can increase the risk for a person to develop breast cancer and can increase the risk for other types of cancer. 

What is genetic testing?

Genetic testing is a laboratory test which looks for mutations (alterations) in genes which have been linked with an increased risk for cancer and is performed on a blood or saliva sample. Results typically take 2-3 weeks, but can be completed in 10-14 days for those patients needing results for treatment decisions.

Who should have genetic testing?

Individuals recommended to consider genetic testing include those who have:

  • Breast cancer under age 50
  • Male breast cancer
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Family history of breast, ovarian, pancreatic and prostate cancers
  • Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry
  • Triple negative breast cancer under age 60
  • A family member who has been found to have a mutation in a cancer risk gene

** The American Society of Breast Surgeons has recently changed their guidelines to recommend that all women diagnosed with breast cancer should be offered and have access to genetic testing. 

How can genetic testing benefit me and my family?

  • Genetic test results are helpful to determine risk to develop certain cancers and can guide medical decisions on the best way to reduce the risk or screen for those cancers. 
  • Test results may help patients diagnosed with cancer make decisions regarding surgical and chemotherapy treatments. Results may also affect eligibility for some clinical trials and research studies.
  • Information from genetic testing can help family members better understand their cancer risk and medical management options. 

Where can I learn more about genetic testing for breast cancer?

Genetic counselors can help you understand hereditary cancer, genetic testing and provide you with information. A genetic counselor will:

  • review your family history and explain your risk
  • discuss your options for cancer screening and risk-reduction
  • review the limitations and benefits of genetic testing
  • order testing if you decide to proceed with the genetic test
  • interpret genetic test results and explain what they mean for you and family members
  • discuss how to manage your cancer risk and provide referral information for physicians  who can provide the appropriate care

What is the cost of genetic testing?

Insurance companies provide coverage for genetic testing for patients who have a certain personal and/or family history of cancer.  If you do not meet your insurance company’s criteria for testing, the self- pay rate for genetic testing is about $250.  Several labs also have financial assistance programs. 


Helpful Websites:




Cancer Genetic Counseling Services through Rutgers Cancer Institute

Hereditary Oncology Prevention and Evaluation (HOPE) Program at the LIFE Center                732-235-7110

Appointments available at: Rutgers Cancer Institute in New Brunswick, The Steeplechase Cancer Center in Somerville, The Cancer Center at RWJ University Hospital Hamilton, University Medical Center at Princeton Breast Health Center