What is the BRCA Gene?

You probably already know that a history of breast cancer in your family puts you at greater risk for the disease. This is because certain hereditary genes, when mutated, are linked to breast cancer. These genes are called BRCA1 and BRCA2 (or BReast CAncer susceptibility genes).

BRCA1 and BRCA2 in themselves are not indications that you will develop breast cancer. In fact, everyone is born with BRCA1 and BRCA2, and these genes produce proteins that help suppress tumors by helping to repair cell DNA. It is when a person has inherited a harmful mutation of the BRCA genes that her risk of breast cancer increases. However, research continues to be conducted, and a definitive determination of the increase of risk has yet to be found. The latest studies estimate that between 45 and 65 percent of women with a harmful mutation of the BRCA genes will develop breast cancer.

How Do I Know If I Have a Mutated BRCA Gene?

Genetic testing is available to determine if you have a harmful mutation of your BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene. However, this testing is not without risk. In addition, you would need to have the consent of a family member who has been diagnosed with breast cancer to also have the test, for your results to be the most accurate.

Before you opt for genetic testing, you may want to consider your risk of having a mutated BRCA gene. There are indicators that can help you determine if genetic testing would be appropriate for you.

Women who have been found to have a harmful mutation of BRCA1 or BRCA2 often have the following in their family history:

  • Blood relatives who have been diagnosed with cancer before the age of 50
  • Breast and ovarian cancer either on their father’s or mother’s side
  • Family members who have been diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer
  • Eastern European or Ashkenazi Jewish descendants

If you decide that genetic testing is right for you, you may want to seek out genetic counseling, which will educate and prepare you for any possible results.

Even if you opt out of genetic testing, or have been tested and your BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes have not been mutated, this does not mean that your risk of developing breast cancer is zero. Harmfully abnormal BRCA genes are thought to only cause 1- percent of all cases of breast cancer.

This is why regular mammograms are still important. A mammogram can detect breast cancer early on, when the chances of survival are best. It is recommended that women over 40 should have yearly mammogram exams.

If you cannot afford a mammogram, or the associated co-pays and deductibles, apply for The HealthyWoman Program. The HealthyWoman Program assists women with financial support for breast and cervical cancer screenings. See if you qualify today.