Breast Cancer Awareness Month: What You Need To Know About the BRCA Gene

Breast cancer is the second most common cancer diagnosed in women (after skin cancer), which is why it’s so important for women of all ages to understand their risk factors, and keep up with their breast health.

About 2 out of 3 cases of invasive breast cancer are found in women over 55, which is why doctors suggest that women begin receiving mammograms at age 50. But there are also other risks besides age that have to do with gene mutations, some of which can be hereditary.

The most common gene mutations linked to breast cancer are the BRCA genes (BReast CAncer gene 1 and 2). Although everyone’s DNA contains the BRCA genes, which are meant to keep breast and ovarian cells growing normally, some people have abnormalities in these genes, which puts them at a higher risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer.

The majority of breast cancer diagnosis are not linked to mutations in the BRCA genes, but for those women who do carry these mutations, the probability of a breast cancer diagnosis increases from 12% to 80%. This is why many doctors are urging women with a history of breast cancer in their families to get tested for the gene.

Testing isn’t for everyone, so you should only consider it if any of the following applies to you or your family:

  • An immediate family member has tested positive for BRCA1/2 gene mutation or other inherited gene mutation linked to breast cancer.
  • If you or a family member (parent, sibling, child, grandparent, grandchild, uncle, aunt, nephew or niece) has been diagnosed with breast cancer at age 45 or younger.
  • A personal history of breast cancer and Ashkenazi Jewish heritage.
  • A personal history of triple negative breast cancer (breast cancer that is estrogen receptor-negative, progesterone receptor-negative and HER2-negative) diagnosed at age 60 or younger
  • A personal or family history of ovarian cancer
  • A personal or family history of male breast cancer

It’s also important to remember that having the BRCA gene mutation doesn’t guarantee a breast cancer diagnosis, so if you or a loved one does test positive, talk to your doctor about options to reduce your risk.

Written by Olivia Murphy