Webinar reassures Australian women who have a family history of breast cancer

Wednesday 26 June, 2013

More than 500 people registered to take part in Cancer Council Victoria's free national webinar titled ‘Breast cancer in the family: What does that mean for me?' that was held last night.

The webinar was organised after the Cancer Council experienced a 1,033% increase in enquiries to its Helpline in the wake of actress Angelina Jolie's decision to undergo a prophylactic (preventive) double mastectomy. Similar increases were experienced by Cancer Council Helplines in other states, and by a range of support services across Australia.

The most common questions/concerns logged through the webinar were:

  • How much does genetic testing cost?
  • What is the process to go through if I think I need genetic testing?
  • Should I have testing done to see if I'm at risk as my mum, my aunt, my great aunt and five of my mum's cousins have all had breast cancer?
  • How do you do the testing when the family member has already passed away?
  • What is the difference between the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene and the chance of passing the gene on with no family history?
  • What age can my children be genetic tested?
  • Where do I find information about genetic testing? Who should I speak to?
  • What lifestyle factors can I undertake to reduce my cancer risk?
  • My mother has had breast and ovarian cancer. She has had a genetic test for the BRCA genes which came back 'inconclusive'. What does this result mean?

Lucinda Hossack, Clinical Genetic Counsellor at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, led discussion on the issue during the webinar.

She said many women who had a history of breast cancer in their family were now anxious. However, she said people should remember that although breast cancer was common in Australia, only 5% to 10% of cases were linked to known genetic factors.

"For most women, having a family history of breast cancer will not significantly increase their risk. Genetic testing is complex, so I urge anyone with specific questions to call the Cancer Council Helpline on 13 11 20 to discuss their individual situation" Ms Hossack said.

Marcia Hills logged onto the webinar from her home in Wangaratta, Victoria.

"It was a very informative event that helped relieve my anxiety about my genetic risk, and that of my daughters. I now appreciate how important it is to focus on making positive lifestyle choices to reduce my cancer risk as much as I can. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to learn more."

Cancer Council Victoria CEO, Todd Harper, said the full webinar would be uploaded onto YouTube and this website at the start of next week so people who had missed out would still be able to access the information.

"We know people often look online first to find information about cancer, and I would urge them to always seek such answers from a reliable source like the Cancer Council website or our Helpline (13 11 20)."

A survey of 3000 people, released last week by Cancer Council Victoria revealed that 72% of respondents would first look online to find information about cancer, up 9% from 2010.

Updated: 26 Jun, 2013