The BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene test is a blood test that can tell you if you have a higher risk of getting cancer. The name BRCA comes from the first two letters of breast cancer.
BRCA1 and BRCA2 are genes that suppress tumors in humans. When these genes change (become mutations) they do not suppress tumors like they should. So people with BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations are at a higher risk of getting cancer.
Women with this mutation are at higher risk of getting breast cancer or ovarian cancer. Mutations may also increase a woman’s risk of getting:
Men with this mutation are also more likely to get cancer. Mutations may increase a man’s risk of getting
Only about 5% of breast cancers and 10-15% of ovarian cancers are associated with BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations.
Before being tested, you should speak with a genetic counselor to learn more about the tests, and the risks and benefits of testing.
If you have a family member with breast cancer or ovarian cancer, find out if that person has been tested for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutation. If that person does have the mutation, you might consider getting tested, too.
Someone in your family may have the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation if:
You have a very low chance of having the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation if:
Before the test is done, speak to a genetic counselor to decide whether to have the test.
If you decide to be tested, your blood sample is sent to a lab that specializes in genetic testing. That lab will look for BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations in the blood. It can take weeks or months to get the test results.
When the test results are back, the genetic counselor will explain the results and what they mean for you.
A positive test result means you have inherited the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation.
When you know you are at higher risk of getting cancer, you can decide if you will do anything differently.
None of these precautions will guarantee you will not get cancer.
If your test result for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations is negative, the genetic counselor will tell you what this means. Your family history will help the genetic counselor understand a negative test result.
A negative test result does not mean you will not get cancer. It may mean you have the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation, but the test results were not clear. It may mean you have the same risk of getting cancer as people who don't have this mutation.
BRCA and BRCA2: Cancer Risk and Genetic Testing. National Cancer Institute Web site. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/BRCA. Accessed September 20, 2013.
Risk Assessment, Genetic Counseling, and Genetic Testing for BRCA-Related Cancer in Women. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Web site. http://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/uspstf/uspsbrgen.htm. Accessed September 20, 2013.
What Do I Need to Know about the BRCA Gene? POV 25 Web site. http://www.pbs.org/pov/inthefamily/special_faq.php#.Uav-dpXtg05. Accessed September 20, 2013.
Updated by: Todd Gersten, MD, Hematology/Oncology, Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute, Wellington, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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