Cancer: BRCA1 and BRCA2 Gene Mutations Up the Risk of Breast and Ovarian Cancer

A woman’s lifetime risk of developing breast cancer is approximately 12 percent, but there are certain BRCA mutations which increase the risk for women to 50-80 percent. For ovarian cancer a BRCA mutation means that a woman goes from a 1.4 percent risk to a 40-60 percent jump.

What are BCRA1 and BCRA 2 mutations? The term BRCA itself stands for breast cancer susceptibility. BRCA1 and BRCA2 belong to a class of human genes which, in a perfect world, suppress tumors. If these genes mutate, then one is considered as having a hereditary risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

The BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutation means that a woman has an increased risk of breast and/or ovarian cancer before menopause. Usually, close family members will have also been diagnosed with cancer at an early age also. These harmful mutations also increase the risk of cervical, colon, uterine, stomach, melanoma and gallbladder cancer.

There are no standard criteria for who should be tested for the BRCA gene mutation, however if you have family members whohave had cancer, it is a clue. If any of these family members were young; before menopause, it is a good idea to consider testing for the gene. It would be a very good idea to ask the family member to test for the BRCA mutation, so that the rest of the family members could get a heads up.

According the National Cancer Institute, the risk of having the mutation is higher if you are of Ashkenazic Jewish descent. If this is the case, pay attention to whether any first degree relative, such as a parent or sibling has been diagnosed with cancer. Also, find out if any second degree relatives, such as a grandparent, half-siblings, nieces or nephews had cancer.

Pay special attention to relatives that are male, and whether the relative had cancer in both breasts (bilateral breast cancer,) and a combination of two or more first or second degree relatives diagnosed with ovarian cancer, regardless of their age at the time of diagnosis.

If you have been diagnosed wit the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation, you are particularly in need of support from family and friends. Some people turn to the national advocacy group called Bright Pink. This organization is specifically geared to young women at high risk of breast and ovarian cancer. Many young women are thoroughly relieved to find out that they are not the only one suffering alone.

List of Advocacy groups-Source

As disheartening as this information is, it empowers us. It is lifesaving because once you know, you understand what you must do. The protocol for women with the BRCA mutations is to do nothing until the age of 25 and after that begin a screening regimen which alternates between mammograms, ultrasound and a MRI every six months. At age 35 a woman is advised to consider a double mastectomy followed by a complete oophorectomy (removal of one or both ovaries) at age 40.

The solution to the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations is hard to bear, but you can still live your life following a mastectomy and an oophorectomy. Most women are done bearing and nursing their children by the time they are in their mid-30’s. Mothers then want to be around to raise their children, they want to be around to see their grandchildren born and they want to continue the companionship with their mate. With advanced cancer technology and solutions, many women are able to do just that!