BRCA and Cancer Risk

BRCA1 and BRCA2 are genes—called tumor suppressors—that keep cell growth under control in the body. When BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes mutate, a person may be at a higher risk for cancer, but not in all cases. Sometimes mutated BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are actually beneficial, and sometimes they are benign. Increased risk for certain cancers, particularly breast cancer and ovarian cancer in women, occurs when BRCA1 and BRAC2 genes have a harmful mutation. This condition can be hereditary, or passed to from parent to child in the DNA of the sperm or egg.

In addition to ovarian and breast cancer, harmful BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations are linked to increased risk for cervical, uterine, pancreatic, and colon cancer in women, and melanoma, pancreatic, breast, stomach, gallbladder, testicular, and bile duct cancer in men. Women who have a harmful BRCA1 or BRCA2 have a 36% to 85% chance of developing breast cancer and a 16% to 60% chance of developing ovarian cancer. The good news is that only 5 to 10% of breast and ovarian cancer cases are connected to BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations.

Genetic testing for mutated BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes is available and is done using a blood sample. You might want to consider genetic testing if:

· You have a family history of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, or both, especially if you have two first-degree (parents, siblings, or children) relatives with either breast or ovarian cancer

· You have a first-degree family member who has gotten cancer in both breasts

· You have a family member who has had both ovarian and breast cancer

· You have a male family member who has gotten breast cancer

· You are a woman of Ashkenazi Jewish lineage, an Eastern European group known to be predisposed to BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations

Genetic counseling is advised before and after testing occurs. There are benefits and drawbacks of finding out the results of genetic testing, and it is important for a person to understand both before testing occurs. A negative test result can bring relief, but a positive test can have a big emotional impact. However, there are things that can be done to decrease the risk of cancer if a positive test result occurs, such as a preventative mastectomy, oophorectomy, or hysterectomy. There are certain medications that can also help decrease risk of cancer.

Next Thursday, The Medical Center of Plano will host FORCE: Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered. This support group is dedicated to providing support, networking, and education for those with hereditary breast and ovarian cancer related to BRCA mutations or mutations to other genes that predispose a person to cancer. If you’d like to join us or would like more information, please contact Annette Patterson at 972-566-3955 or via email at


BRCA1 and BRCA2: Risk and Genetic Testing (National Cancer Institute)

Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer (National Library of Medicine)

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One Response to BRCA and Cancer Risk

  1. The study also suggests the difference in estrogen exposure could be
    because of genetic, environmental, or lifestyle factors that make
    someone more likely to develop post-menopausal breast cancer.