Most people have heard of the BRCA gene mutation because of high-profile celebrities like Christina Applegate and Angelina Jolie, and many have considered being tested themselves. In women with no history of breast cancer, the incidence of BRCA testing has risen substantially over the past ten years, which may seem like a good thing on the surface. However, the reality is a bit more complicated. The more knowledge women have of BRCA testing, the more likely they are to make the right decisions. Below are several important things to know about this genetic test
It’s Possible to Get a Positive Result (And Not Get Breast Cancer)
While having the BRCA mutation significantly increases a woman’s risk of getting breast cancer at some point, it is not a guarantee. Approximately 65% of women inheriting the BRCA1 mutation and about 45% of those with the BRCA2 mutation will develop cancer by the age of 70, per information from the National Cancer Institute. Conversely, it’s possible to get a negative BRCA test result and still develop breast cancer. Therefore, it’s important to follow the American Cancer Society’s screening guidelines, which recommend yearly mammograms for women ages 45 and over.
BRCA Is Not Just a Breast Cancer Gene
Although many think that BRCA only relates to breast cancer, it is linked to ovarian cancers as well. Approximately 40% of women with BRCA1 and 17% of those with BRCA2 will get ovarian cancer. Those who test positive often consider removing their fallopian tubes and ovaries, which reduces ovarian cancer rates by more than 80%.
BRCA Mutations May Come From the Father’s Side
Half of a person’s genes come from their father. Therefore, if his mother or grandmother passed from breast cancer, his daughters are at greater risk. If there is a history of cancer in multiple close relatives on the father’s side, a patient should ask to be referred to a medical geneticist to determine the need for further testing.
The idea of developing breast cancer is a scary one indeed, but genetic testing and preventive medicine work wonders. For more information on BRCA testing, see Jim Plante online.