Do you remember when Angelina Jolie had a mastectomy because of a defective cancer gene? That was BRCA.
BRCA1 & 2 stand for ’breast cancer susceptibility genes one and two,’ respectively. That’s a bit of a mouthful so for the sake of this article we will call these two genes ‘BRCA.’ These two cancer-fighting genes play a really important role in our body, however, for some people these genes are mutated – not in the fun X-Men style – and don’t work. Which means these people have a very high risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer.
Cancer is never a cheery topic to discuss, but it is vital that women understand the risk that a BRCA gene mutation poses. Let’s talk about what BRCA is, what risks carriers face and who should consider getting tested.
What is BRCA?
The magical little genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 are found in all humans, and they’re pretty nifty as they produce tumor suppressing proteins. These little proteins fly around the body helping to repair DNA that has been damaged to keep our cells healthy. When either of these BRCA genes are altered or damaged in any way, they don’t produce these very important proteins, or the proteins are made incorrectly and don’t work as they should – picture less flying around and more limping about. This means that damaged DNA doesn’t get repaired, leading to impaired cells which are more likely to mutate into tumors and become cancerous.
This is not good news for you or your body…
How Does BRCA Increase Your Risk of Cancer?
Both men and woman can carry the BRCA gene mutation but it’s much more dangerous for women than it is for men (we get all the good stuff, don’t we?) as a faulty BRCA gene can seriously increase your risk of breast and ovarian cancer, especially as you get older.
Check out the table below for some BRCA facts:
Who is at Risk?
Generally speaking, genetic testing for the BRCA gene mutation isn’t recommended for everyone. Around 1 in 500 people have this genetic mutation and screening everyone would be expensive and time consuming. Family history is the biggest deciding factor when it comes to being recommended for genetic testing as BRCA mutations are passed down from parent to child. Either parent can be a carrier of a BRCA gene mutation and they have a 50/50 chance of passing it onto their children. The good news is BRCA doesn’t skip a generation, so if you don’t have it you can’t pass it to your children.
If your mother, grandmother or aunts have developed breast or ovarian cancer, it is worth speaking to your doctor about assessing your family history and deciding if you should be tested. They will be able to tell you if you need genetic testing and support you through the process.
Some races and ethnicities are more prone to BRCA mutations than others. In particular, those of Ashkenazi Jewish background are three times more likely to have a BRCA mutation than caucasian non-Ashkenazi people. Scandinavian and hispanic people are also more likely carry a BRCA mutation.
What Happens Next?
If you think you have the BRCA 1 or 2 genetic mutation in your family, undergoing genetic testing is something you seriously need to consider. Your risk of developing cancer dramatically increases in your late twenties and continues to rise throughout your life. The earlier you are tested, the better your chances of catching cancer early. Make an appointment with your doctor and speak to them about your options.
The Results are In…
If you are diagnosed with a BRCA gene mutation there are lots of options available to you. Normally your doctor will discuss the medical treatments available, from cancer prevention drugs to risk reducing surgery like a mastectomy. If you are found to have a BRCA gene mutation it is recommended that you have regular cancer screenings such as mammograms so that anything unusual will be noticed immediately.
If you are tested and the results for the BRCA gene mutation are positive, there are also some amazing support groups available such as FORCE which operate throughout the US and online.
Take a minute and think about your family, does cancer keep coming up generation after generation? Genetic testing for BRCA has only been available since 1996 so if you are a carrier there is a chance no one in your family has been tested and you could have this genetic mutation without knowing.
Don’t take the risk, go get tested. Speak to your doctor and if you do have a BRCA gene mutation you can get one step ahead of the game and start having regular screenings. It’s a daunting prospect, but it’s better to know than spend your whole life wondering and in fear. Genetic testing can help you kick cancer in the butt, and if there is one thing that deserves kicking, it’s cancer.
Please note that advice offered by Tips For Healthy Living may not be relevant to your individual case. For specific concerns regarding your health, always consult your physician or other licensed medical practitioners