Having a BRCA gene mutation is uncommon. Inherited BRCA gene mutations are responsible for about 5 to 10 percent of breast cancers and about 15 percent of ovarian cancers.
Mutations to either breast cancer gene — BRCA1 or BRCA2 — significantly increase your risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer when compared with the cancer risk of a woman without a BRCA gene mutation. Men with certain inherited BRCA gene mutations also face an increased risk of breast cancer. BRCA mutations may increase the risk of other types of cancer in women and men as well.
Once detected, and depending on the mutation, surveillance and surgical options are available for reducing the risk of cancer.
Who should consider BRCA gene testing?
You might be at increased risk of having a BRCA gene mutation — and a candidate for BRCA gene testing — if you have:
- A personal history of breast cancer diagnosed at a young age (premenopausal or young than age 50)
- A personal history of triple negative breast cancer diagnosed at age 60 or younger
- A personal history of breast cancer affecting both breasts (bilateral breast cancer)
- A personal history of both breast and ovarian cancers
- A personal history of ovarian cancer
- A personal history of breast cancer and one or more relatives with breast cancer diagnosed at age 50 or younger, one relative with ovarian cancer, or two or more relatives with breast or pancreatic cancer
- A history of breast cancer at a young age in two or more close relatives, such as your parents, siblings or children
- A male relative with breast cancer
- A family member who has both breast and ovarian cancers
- A family member with bilateral breast cancer
- A relative with ovarian cancer
- A relative with a known BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation
- Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jewish ancestry, with a close relative who has breast, ovarian or pancreatic cancer at any age
Ideally, in a family that might carry a BRCA mutation, a family member who has breast or ovarian cancer will have the BRCA gene test first. If this individual agrees to genetic testing and doesn't carry the BRCA gene mutation, then other family members may not benefit from taking the BRCA test. However, there might be other genetic tests to consider. A genetic counselor can help you decide what other genetic testing options may be available based on your personal and family history.