Running Some Numbers

As much as I’ve complained about how often I’m asked about my family history, I’ve recently become more interested in it. My first cousin friend-requested me on Facebook two weeks ago. Because my father and her father (brothers) were estranged most of their adult lives, my cousin and I never had a relationship. Through some messages on Facebook, she disclosed that she’s BRCA2+ (like me) and recently finished treatment for stage 1 breast cancer. It’s so strange that she contacted me just as I started going through this (when she first messaged me, it was a week before the biopsy). I just can’t believe how many people in my family are affected by this.

We have a pretty comprehensive family tree on Geni, but none of our medical history is in there. So I drew a sketch of one myself and determined these numbers:

My grandfather had two sisters, and between the three of them, there are 18 blood descendants; my grandfather and his sisters all died of cancer. That’s 21 people total I’ll be referring to. Of course, my grandfather and his sisters were not tested for BRCA, but my grandfather certainly had it as did at least one of his sisters (her daughter is BRCA2+). Nine of us have been tested for the gene; seven of us are carriers. Eight of the 17 of us who are living (my father’s brother was BRCA2+ and died from pancreatic cancer in 2009) are under 25 (four are teenagers and four are under age five) and haven’t been tested yet.  These numbers might be significant, they might not be. I just wanted to see it laid out. I’m definitely curious about other families. Genetically, there’s a 50/50 chance of having the gene if a parent has it – but in our family, it seems higher (78% of those of us tested are positive).

The strange thing is that the cousin who friended me on Facebook is only 30 years old, and I am only 36. Up until now, no woman in my family has had breast cancer until the onset of menopause or later (this is typical with BRCA2). This is why I had been waiting to have any surgeries – I thought I was safe for at least ten more years. Another cousin of mine is going to research this – perhaps BRCA2 carriers are at risk at a younger age. If that’s the case, genetic counselors need to warn us.



    1. That was my understanding too, which was why I was waiting a bit longer to have surgery. But now two of us (me and my first cousin) have had it in our 30s.

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