Should You Get Tested for BRCA Gene Mutations?

Oct 02, 2023
Should You Get Tested for BRCA Gene Mutations?
Mutations in the BRCA genes put you at a higher risk of developing breast cancer. Testing to see if you carry any mutations gives you an opportunity to take steps to prevent the development of cancer. Should you get tested? Here are some guidelines.

October is breast cancer awareness month — but wait — don’t shrug it off as another “awareness month” gimmick for raising funds or promoting research.

Learning about breast cancer is important, because it’s a leading cause of cancer death in women. And, if you inherited a BRCA gene mutation, your risk for breast cancer is much higher compared to women who don't have the mutation.

The experienced team at Glendale Obstetrics and Gynecology, PC, in Glendale, Arizona, can answer your questions, evaluate your risks for breast cancer, determine if you should have a mammogram, and help you decide if you should get genetic testing to identify BRCA mutations.

BRCA genes explained

All women and men carry the BRCA 1 and BRCA2 genes (BReast CAncer genes 1 and 2). You get a copy of each gene from your mother and another set from your father. If either parent carries a mutated gene, you have a chance of inheriting it from one or both of them. And you can pass it on to your children.

Healthy BRCA genes have the important job of fighting cancer. When the genes work the way they should, BRCA1 and BRCA2 prevent cancerous growths by stopping breast cells from growing too rapidly or uncontrollably.

When a gene mutates, the genetic information inside the gene changes. The change affects the way the gene functions. Instead of protecting you from cancer, mutated BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes increase your risk for breast cancer.

Breast cancer risks due to BRCA mutations

Mutated BRCA 1 and BRCA2 genes cause 3%-5% of breast cancers. That may sound small, but it’s still crucial to take BRCA mutations seriously, because they have a dramatic impact on your chances of developing breast cancer.

The risk for breast cancer during your lifetime is:

  • More than 60% for women who inherit a BRCA1 mutation
  • More than 60% for women who inherit a BRCA2 mutation
  • 13% for women in the general population

Inheriting a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation also increases your risk of a second breast cancer. These second cancers are not related to the first cancer and usually occur in the opposite breast.

The risk of cancer in the opposite breast within 10 years of your first cancer is:

  • 10%-30% for women with a BRCA1/2 mutation
  • 5%-10% for women who do not carry a BRCA1/2 mutation

Your risk of a second cancer at some point in your lifetime is 40-80% if you inherit mutated BRCA1 or 2 genes.

BRCA mutations can cause other cancers

Though we’re focusing on breast cancer, you should know that inheriting a BRCA mutation also increases your risk for other cancers, including:

  • Ovarian cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Melanoma (BRCA2 mutations)
  • Uterine cancer (BRCA1 mutations)
  • Prostate cancer (yes, BRCA mutations affect men, too)

Surprisingly, women with BRCA mutations who get ovarian cancer may have a better survival rate than women with healthy genes.

When to consider BRCA genetic testing

Genetic testing reveals if you carry an inherited mutation. You may benefit from BRCA testing if you have:

  • A mother, sister, or daughter diagnosed with breast cancer
  • One or more women in your family diagnosed with breast cancer before age 45
  • Several generations of family members diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer
  • A family member with both breast and ovarian cancers
  • A family member diagnosed with a second breast cancer
  • A male relative diagnosed with breast cancer
  • Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry

There’s nothing easy about facing your potential risks for breast cancer and deciding whether to get BRCA genetic testing, but we’re here to help. If you choose to have testing, we explain the results and discuss your choices for preventing breast cancer.

To learn more, call 602-298-8977 or book an appointment online with Glendale Obstetrics and Gynecology, PC, today.