A woman's risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer is greatly increased if she inherits a harmful mutation in the BRCA1 gene or the BRCA2 gene.
Everyone has two BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes each. When healthy, these genes help protect us from developing cancer; however, mutations in the genes, which are passed along by our parents, can increase an individual’s risk of developing cancer, especially breast and ovarian cancer.
Less than one percent of women have the BRCA1 or BRCA 2 gene mutation. Current guidelines from organizations like the American Cancer Society suggest that a woman should be tested for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutation only if she has a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, or if she currently has early signs of developing other cancers.
The test is just a standard blood test, conducted at your doctor’s office. After the blood is taken, it will be sent to a lab for analysis; the results will typically be available in two to four weeks.
Testing positive for a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation does not mean that you will absolutely develop breast or ovarian cancer, just as testing negative for them does not mean that you will never develop breast or ovarian cancer. Testing positive is the first step in a program that includes counseling, consulting with doctors, and learning about your options.
Preventative surgery is just one of many options that women who test positive for the mutation can consider. Non-surgical options can include getting regular MRIs of your breast tissue to monitor for any growths or tumors; taking oral contraceptives to reduce odds of ovarian cancer; or taking selective estrogen receptor modulators, which can lower the risk of estrogen receptor–positive inherited breast cancer.