Some women are vulnerable to developing breast cancer because they’re born with mutations (changes in the sequence of the DNA) in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes. Having mutations in either of these genes raises your breast cancer risk.
A woman can inherit an abnormal BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene — or, in rare instances, both — from either her father or her mother. These genes normally function as “caretakers,” repairing DNA in cells when it becomes damaged. Women without a BRCA mutation have two normal copies of the gene and are at a lower risk for developing breast cancer than those with the mutation.
In addition to breast cancer, women with a BRCA mutation have an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer, and men with these mutations may be at an increased risk of developing male breast cancer and prostate cancer.
If you or women in your family have been diagnosed with breast cancer, you may wonder if you should be tested for genetic mutations in BRCA1 or BRCA2. For most women, the answer to this question is no. Inherited gene mutations are responsible for only a small percentage of breast cancers.
However, you and your relatives might consider genetic counseling and testing if:
If you’re concerned about your personal or family risk for breast cancer, we invite you to meet with one of the specially trained genetic counselors and doctors in our Clinical Genetics Service. They can help you better understand your personal risk for developing breast cancer by giving you a hereditary cancer risk assessment, counseling, and testing.
Together, we’ll explore and chart your family history of disease, discuss your personal risk factors, and estimate your risk for disease. We’ll also determine whether the genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 might be affecting your risk level and talk to you about the questions and concerns that testing for mutations in these genes might bring up for you.
Genetic testing cannot predict whether you or a family member will develop breast cancer; it can only tell you if it’s more likely that you will.