National Women’s Health Week: BRCA Testing

By Carolina Boyd, Communications Associate

May 9-5, 2021 marks National Women’s Health Week and it is a good reminder to women of all ages that you are never too old or too young to start taking control of your overall health. That can include many things like maintaining a healthy diet, watching your weight, getting enough sleep and regular check-ups and screenings.

One screening that more women are choosing to do is BRCA testing. BRCA is an abbreviation for “BReast CAncer gene.” BRCA1 and BRCA2 are two different genes that influence a person’s chances of developing breast cancer. We each carry two copies of both the BRCA1 and BRCA1 genes inherited from both our mother and father. All humans have both the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.

“Genetic testing can help women and even men determine if they have inherited an abnormal gene that increases their risk of breast, ovarian, pancreatic, or prostate cancer,” said Dr. Rachel Robinson, Medical Director of OB/GYN at Legacy Community Health.

An estimated one in eight women are diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime. Research has found that an estimated 55 – 65 percent of women with the BRCA1 mutation will develop breast cancer before age 70. Approximately 45 percent of women with a BRCA2 mutation will develop breast cancer by age 70.

Despite its name, the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes do not actually cause breast cancer. In fact, they can actually help repair DNA breaks that can lead to cancer and the uncontrolled growth of tumors. However, the tumor suppressing aspects of the gene can become altered or broken and stop functioning correctly. When that happens, the carrier of the mutated gene can pass the gene mutation down to his or her offspring.

“The key criteria for BRCA testing include, among others things, personal history of female breast cancer diagnosed between the ages of 45 and 50, triple-negative breast cancer diagnosed at about 60 years of age , or a personal or family history of ovarian cancer, male breast cancer, metastatic prostate cancer, or exocrine pancreatic cancer.”

If you test positive for the one of BRCA genes, there are screening methods that can help reduce your risk of developing cancer. For women, those include:

  • More frequent breast and ovarian cancer screenings like mammograms.
  • Surgery to reduce the risk of breast or ovarian cancer
  • Deciding to use medications to reduce your risk of breast or ovarian cancer

“After genetic testing, it is important to talk to your doctor or genetics provider to make sure you understand what the results mean for you and your family. During this discussion you can find out how your test results affect your cancer risk and what options are available to you in order to detect cancer early or reduce your risk,” said Robinson. “Your health care provider or genetic counselor will answer your questions as well as provide resources for more information and support.”

Legacy Community Health offers genetic testing for hereditary cancers including: Breast, Ovarian, Gastric, Colorectal, Pancreatic, Melanoma, Prostate and Endometrial. If you are interested in genetic testing, contact a Legacy provider, who will help you determine if you are a candidate for testing based on your history. Testing is available at most Legacy clinics and insurance may even cover the cost of testing.  In addition, financial assistance programs are available for qualified patients. Call 832-548-5000 to schedule an appointment.