As October and breast cancer awareness month closes, women with a family history of breast and ovarian cancer have completed their mammograms, ultrasounds, MRI testing and physical examinations for early detection of cancer. There is a test that can detect the presence of an inherited gene that can cause breast or ovarian cancer. This is called the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene testing. Not everyone is a candidate for testing, however; if you have a family history of multiple cases of breast and ovarian cancer of more than one family member or of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry, having the BRCA testing may be an option for you.
Testing involves a blood sample drawn in a laboratory, clinic or doctors office. Results using take several weeks to obtain. Your health care professional may recommend genetic counseling before and after your testing. This includes a risk assessment, family history, what the test is about , and the medical and psychological implications of your test results. A positive test result indicates that you have inherited a known harmful mutation in BRCA1 or BRCA2 and are at risk to develop certain cancers. It is important to realize a positive test result implies you are at risk and not actually having cancer. Not all who have inherited the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation will develop breast or ovarian cancer. A negative result still does not rule out the possibility of developing a cancer. The result means that you are at risk of cancer at the same level of the general population.
There are several options for managing cancer risk for those with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation gene. Most importantly, even for the general population, surveillance and screening is the best way of detecting cancer early. These include self breast exams monthly and mammograms. Prophylactic surgery is surgery that removes the at risk tissue to reduce the chance of getting cancer (mastectomy or salpingo-oophorectomy where there is a removal of fallopian tubes and ovaries). Surgery does not guarantee you will not develop breast or ovarian cancer. Chemoprevention or preventive medications can also reduce the risk of breast and ovarian cancer. This is a drug regime that blocks the effects of estrogen that influences the growth and development of many breast tumors.
BRCA1 (breast cancer) and BRCA2 (ovarian cancer) genes are tumor suppressors. Men and women who inherit these mutated genes may be at risk for cancers. Any genetic testing effects your emotions, finances, medical choices and social relationships. Your results are considered part of your health information, however, HIPAA (Health Information Portability and Accountability Act) protects the privacy of your heath information. Federal and State laws help to ensure the privacy of your genetic information and protect you against being discrimination for health insurance or employment.
National Cancer Institute: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/BRCA
Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/brca-gene-test/MY00322
Web Md: http://www.webmd.com/breast-cancer/breast-cancer-brca-gene-test