Hereditary Breast Cancer Treatment Program

Hereditary Breast Cancer Treatment Program

Danielle Polumbo, who received treatment for BRCA1-associated breast cancer through MSK's Hereditary Breast Cancer Treatment Program.

When Danielle Polumbo was diagnosed with BRCA1-associated breast cancer, her MSK team tailored treatment to the type of hereditary breast cancer that she had.

Hereditary breast cancer is a type of breast cancer that happens because of a genetic predisposition (jeh-NEH-tik PREE-dih-spuh-ZIH-shun). A genetic predisposition is an increase in the risk of getting cancer because of the genes you were born with. It is caused by a genetic change (mutation or variant) passed down through generations in a family. Hereditary cancer is also called inherited cancer.

When we say family, we mean people related to you by blood, and not through marriage or adoption. We call these family members your blood relatives. They include parents, siblings, and children.

The mutations that drive hereditary breast cancer usually are passed down from your mother or father. Mutations are changes in the molecular sequence of DNA.

Most hereditary breast cancers are related to mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Mutations in other genes also can lead to hereditary breast cancer. 

Hereditary gene mutations, such as BRCA1, BRCA2, and other gene mutations, affect how well a cell can repair damage. Cancer can start if cells cannot fix damage.

Treatment options for hereditary breast cancer

When you learn you have hereditary breast cancer, you may feel confused about treatment.

Hereditary breast cancers often do not behave like other breast cancers. A treatment that’s right for someone with breast cancer that’s not hereditary may not be best for you.

MSK will tailor treatment to the type of hereditary breast cancer you have. Through research, MSK has learned how to target the cellular pathways that are affected by gene mutations.

How MSK treats hereditary breast cancer

MSK understands the special cancer care needs of people who learn they have hereditary breast cancer. We always base our recommendations on evidence from the latest research.

Our teams of specialists take a personal approach to cancer treatment. We listen to your care goals and concerns. We offer supportive services for both your physical and emotional needs.

I will never forget that day. He [Dr. Robson] couldn't feel the tumor. Everything happened so fast. I barely had time to process that I had cancer, and it was already going away.
Danielle Polumbo, who received treatment for BRCA1-associated breast cancer through MSK's Hereditary Breast Cancer Treatment Program.

How people with hereditary breast cancer can make an appointment at MSK

Your care experience starts with a single phone call. Our Care Advisors have special training in helping with everything you need.

When you call, a Care Advisor will ask you for some basic information. This includes things like where you live, so we can help find the MSK location nearest you. Our Care Advisors will help you with scheduling your appointment. They also can answer your questions.

Call 800-525-2225 to make an appointment. Our Care Advisors are available Monday through Friday, to (Eastern time).

What happens when I call?

We will put you in touch with the MSK healthcare providers who are the best match for you. If you’re feeling stressed or anxious about your diagnosis, our social workers can help. They’re available even before you meet with one of our doctors. They can support you before, during, and after your treatment.

A Note from the Program Directors

MSK’s Hereditary Breast Cancer Treatment Program is just for people with breast cancer related to an inherited gene mutation. We’re experts in treating this condition.

Mark E. Robson, MD, and Minna Lee, MD.

Mark E. Robson, MD, and Minna Lee, MD.

If you have been diagnosed with hereditary breast cancer, it’s important to choose a care team that is very experienced in managing this type of breast cancer. Our doctors understand the special needs of people with this disease. 

The Hereditary Breast Cancer Treatment Program has specialists from many areas. This includes medical oncology (cancer doctors), breast surgery, reconstructive surgery, pathology, and radiation oncology. Our team will work with you on your personal care plan, using the latest treatments. We also have genetic counselors who can talk to you about genetic predisposition caused by gene mutations.

Supporting people with hereditary breast cancers is only part of our program’s mission. We’re also researching ways to improve treatment options for this type of breast cancer.

By learning all we can about your tumor, we can select treatments for just that kind of tumor.

First, we take a sample from the tumor, either during a biopsy or during your surgery. Then, we run special tests that tell us more about the tumor and any genetic mutations present in the tumor or your blood sample.

We also use information from these tests to help us understand the different types of gene mutations in hereditary breast cancer. This helps us with our research studies, also known as clinical trials.

People with hereditary breast cancers often have many questions. We developed this program to help you and your loved ones find the latest treatment options. If you’re facing this diagnosis, you’re not alone.

Mark Robson, MD  
Chief, Breast Medicine Service 
Breast Oncologist

Minna Lee, MD  
Breast Surgeon


How we support people with hereditary breast cancer

Most breast and ovarian cancers are not caused by inherited mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. It raises the risk for breast, ovarian, and other cancers.

You may be interested in genetic testing and counseling for your family. MSK’s genetic counselors can work with you and your family to order genetic tests. These tests can help you understand who may have a gene mutation that puts them at a higher risk for cancer.

The tests may show your family member has a gene mutation. Our counselors may recommend steps they can take to lower their risk, such as getting cancer screenings more often.

Gynecologic oncology

Sometimes, genetic tests for people with hereditary breast cancer can show a mutation that raises their risk for ovarian cancer. Their family members also may carry a mutation that makes ovarian cancer more likely. Learn more about Hereditary Breast and Ovary Cancer syndrome (HBOC).

If you or a family member have a higher risk for ovarian cancer, our experts in gynecologic oncology can help. They can help you understand the warning signs of ovarian cancer. They can also recommend options to lower your risk for ovarian cancer.

Fertility and sexual health

Some cancer therapies can affect a person’s ability to have children or produce sperm. There are several options that can help you preserve fertility before treatment starts, or to start a family after treatment.

MSK’s Sexual Health & Fertility program helps women and men understand the steps they can take to preserve fertility. This can include egg or embryo freezing for women and sperm banking for men.

We also offer help to women and men who have sexual health issues related to cancer. It’s common to have less interest in sex or a lack of self-confidence.

Our Female Sexual Medicine and Women’s Health Program includes the services of a psychologist or sexual therapist and a general gynecologist.

Our Male Sexual and Reproductive Medicine Program is led by a urologist with special training in sexual health. We help men who are dealing with sexual health challenges related to cancer, including erectile dysfunction (impotence).

Plastic and reconstructive surgery

MSK’s plastic and reconstructive surgeons offer a range of breast cancer reconstructive options. Our surgeons perform nearly 3,000 breast reconstruction procedures each year. This is among the highest in the country.

Our plastic and reconstructive surgeons will talk with you to understand your goals for surgery. Breast reconstruction can be done in several ways and is a personal choice. We have options for people who want plastic surgery, as well as options for those who don’t.

MSK’s surgeons will help you look and feel your best, based on what that means to you.

MSK Breast Cancer in Young Women Program

Hereditary breast cancer can develop at a young age. Our Hereditary Breast Cancer Treatment Program works with MSK’s Breast Cancer in Young Women Program to meet the special needs of young women with hereditary breast cancers.

The Breast Cancer in Young Women Program was made for women age 45 and younger. Specialists from both programs work with you to provide care, support, and education.

MSK Healthy Living Program

Breast cancer treatment includes help with diet and exercise. We created the MSK Healthy Living Program for this reason. The program starts with a questionnaire about your health, well-being, and lifestyle.

Your answers will help your team craft a personal plan, just for you. It will help guide you about what you should eat, and what exercises to do. It will tell you how to get support for your emotional well-being.

When your plan is ready, you will meet with one of our nurse navigators. They will talk with you about the plan and answer your questions. The nurse navigator will help make any appointments you need. They work directly with your cancer care team.

After a few months in the Healthy Living Program, you will fill out the same questionnaire. This helps us to understand how well the plan is serving you. It tell us if you have other needs we can help with.

Breast cancer care close to home

You can visit MSK specialists closer to home, not just in Manhattan. We offer treatment at our regional locations in New Jersey, Westchester, and on Long Island. You can get the same outstanding care from MSK doctors at these sites:  

If you’re coming into Manhattan for care, MSK offers a free shuttle for patients and caregivers among our locations. It travels between Memorial Hospital (1275 York Avenue) and several our Manhattan locations. Our social workers can talk with you about transportation resources if you visit our locations outside of Manhattan.

Telemedicine visits

Telemedicine visits let you meet with your healthcare provider from home or wherever is most convenient for you. Many people say telemedicine visits are like being right in their doctor’s office.

Telemedicine uses video technology to connect you to your MSK care team. You can be in the comfort of your home while our healthcare providers to give you the care you need.

You can talk with them using your desktop computer, laptop, smartphone, or tablet. You will be able to see and hear them, and they will see and hear you. 

MSK offers telemedicine visits for many services, including doctor visits. This helps you get the care you need while saving travel time and money. Telemedicine is safe and secure, and meet strict standards.

If you’re interested in telemedicine appointments, your care team will work with you to schedule visits. They can also help you get ready for your telemedicine appointment, and invite others to your visit if you choose to.

Medication management

MSK’s clinical pharmacists have special training in geriatric medicine. They can evaluate your medication and make sure you’re taking them according to your doctor’s instructions.

Our pharmacists will create a plan for you to take your medications. They will choose medications that do not get in the way of your cancer treatment and have fewer side effects. Their goal is to keep your quality of life.

Coping with side effects 

Our specialists are experts in helping you manage side effects of breast cancer treatment. Our experts also use advanced tests to help us know whether you need chemotherapy.

We offer adjuvant therapies, which are treatments you have after your primary treatment, such as surgery. Adjuvant  (A-joo-vunt) therapies include chemotherapy and radiation. We offer scalp cooling to reduce hair loss during chemo. We can also help you manage nausea during chemo.

Controlling pain has always been a very important part of how we treat cancer. In fact, MSK was among the country’s first cancer center to have a service just for treating pain in people with cancer.

Your MSK care team has experts in managing the kind of pain that’s common during and after cancer treatment. We offer pain medications and other pain management methods that are matched to your pain level. Our goal is to keep you as comfortable as possible.

Mental health

A cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming. We can help you cope.

Sometimes, you and your loved ones may just need someone to talk to. We offer individual and group counseling sessions, both in person and through telemedicine visits. Counseling is open to you and your family, separately or together.

We can help you face the emotional and social challenges of cancer and its treatments. You may be feeling stress, anxiety, depression, anger, or loneliness. Counseling sessions are a healthy way to learn how to cope with these emotions.  

You also may feel like no one else can understand what you’re going through. MSK’s online support groups give you a safe space to connect with other people who share this experience.

Our Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences can help whether you’re admitted to the hospital or getting care through office or clinic visits.  We can also refer you to other mental health specialists at MSK or closer to home. Psychiatrists are mental health doctors who can prescribe medication as needed.

Integrative medicine

Among cancer hospitals, MSK has a long history of only offering integrative medicine therapies based on the evidence of scientific research. These therapies are proven to be safe and reliable.

Integrative medicine therapies, also called complementary therapies, are therapies and treatments that go along with your cancer care.

Without the use of prescription drugs, they can help control the symptoms and side effects of treatments. That includes chronic pain, fatigue, insomnia, nerve problems, and nausea. 

You care team will meet with you and your family at an MSK location or through a telemedicine visit. You can ask about multivitamins, herbs, and dietary supplements.

The team will create an integrative medicine plan just for you, based on your personal needs. It can include acupuncture, acupressure, mind-body medicine, massage, or other services. We also offer online group fitness and or mind-body classes taught by certified coaches.

Financial assistance

At MSK, we care about your overall health, not just your cancer diagnosis. Cancer treatment affects you physically, mentally, and emotionally. It can also affect you financially. If you’re retired or on a fixed income, you may be worried about the costs of treatment.

MSK provides financial help in different ways, depending on your needs. Our financial assistance program provides confidential financial aid for patients in need. 

You may be eligible for our financial assistance program. If so, we may pay the balance of your MSK hospital and doctor bills, after you pay what you can afford. We can lower our hospital and doctor fees. Or, you may owe nothing if you cannot afford to pay.

Our insurance counselors can answer your questions about what is covered by insurance if you’re thinking about coming to MSK for care. If you have questions about your insurance coverage, please call our Patient Billing Services team at 646-497-9176.

You may be worried about being able to pay for your prescriptions. We can guide you about the cost of prescription medications and can help you apply for assistance programs offered by drug companies and foundations. These programs help people who are having trouble paying for their prescriptions. They often cover the cost of co-pays for medications.

Help with other needs

Social workers at MSK can help you with your social and emotional needs during treatment. They also can help when you have trouble paying for basic needs, such as transportation and housing.

MSK connects people with hereditary breast cancer with social workers from our Cancer and Aging Social Work Program. They have special training in the needs of older adults. You can have an individual session, either just once or ongoing visits.

Our support groups and programs are held both in person and online. You can join them to meet people going through a similar experience, or to offer advice to others.

Our Patient and Caregiver Peer Support Program connects you and your caregivers with people who have been through a similar breast cancer diagnosis. We also offer support and other resources for caregivers.

The Latest Research

Studies & Publications


Advisory Committee

MSK’s Genetic Breast Cancer Treatment Program relies on a team approach. We’re honored to have an advisory committee of experts to help guide your care.

Donate to MSK’s Hereditary Breast Cancer Treatment Program

Your generosity will advance MSK’s efforts to improve the long-term health and quality of people diagnosed with hereditary breast cancer. 

Donate now

Request an Appointment

Call 646-497-9064
Available Monday through Friday, to (Eastern time)