BRCA1 and BRCA2 (BReast CAncer genes 1 and 2) are the best-known genes linked to breast cancer. Women who inherit a mutation in these genes, from either their mother or father, have a much higher-than-average risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer. Ten percent of breast cancers in the US are linked to an inherited gene mutation.
45 to 65 percent of women who inherit a mutation will develop breast cancer by age 70 years. Genetic testing gives people the chance to learn if their family history of breast cancer is due to an inherited gene mutation so they can be aware of their personal risk for cancer and are able to take early action if need be.
Who should consider testing?
Although genetic testing for BRCA1 and BRCA2 is widely advertised, testing is only recommended for certain people, including those with:
- A known BRCA1/2 gene mutation in the family.
- A personal history of breast cancer at age 45 or younger.
- A personal history of breast cancer at age 50 or younger and a family member diagnosed with breast cancer at any age.
- A personal history of triple negative breast cancer diagnosed at age 60 or younger.
- A personal history of ovarian cancer.
- A personal or family history of male breast cancer.
- Ashkenazi Jewish heritage and a personal or family history of breast or ovarian cancer.
- A family member diagnosed with breast cancer at age 50 or younger.
- A family member diagnosed with ovarian cancer at any age.
Keep in Mind
Although testing for a BRCA1/2 gene mutation just requires a blood test, the risks and benefits should be considered before testing. There are potential physical, emotional and financial impacts of knowing your genetic status. Thus, testing for a BRCA1/2 mutation is recommended only for people who fall into one of the categories listed above.
A health care provider or genetic counselor can talk with you about genetic testing issues. For more information on genetic counseling, visit the National Cancer Institute’s website (or call its hotline at 1-800-4-CANCER) or the National Society of Genetic Counselors’ website.