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A note on terms:

Breast cancer can affect anybody, and everybody is welcome in CoppaFeel!’s community. We’re actively inclusive in our language and we ask people how they want to be described. 

The word ‘chest’ is inclusive of all bodies and genders. When we need to be clinically accurate we use the word ‘breast’. You might prefer to call your chest something else, and that’s ok! 

What is BRCA?

When we talk about BRCA we mean changes that a person is born with in the cells of genes called BRCA1 and BRCA2 . BRCA is a short way of saying BReast CAncer. These changed cells run in families (genetic). They are also known as:

  • BRCA gene mutation.
  • Hereditary breast cancer.
  • Inherited altered gene.

Fewer than 1 in 100 breast cancers are caused by a changed BRCA gene. If you have a changed BRCA gene, your risk of getting breast cancer is between 50% and 90% higher than other people.

We all have genes that protect us against cancer. A changed BRCA gene means one of those genes is faulty. The fault means it can’t repair DNA damage caused by cancer, and the cancer can grow.

Having a changed BRCA gene does not mean you have breast cancer. It does mean your risk of getting breast cancer is much higher than most other people. There are other changed genes that increase the risk of getting breast cancer, but BRCA1 and BRCA 2 are the most common.

Getting Tested for BRCA

If you are worried about a history of breast cancer in your family, talk to your GP. If your GP thinks you could have a changed BRCA gene, they can suggest you are tested. The genetic test for BRCA has 2 steps:

  • Your relative with cancer has a blood test. This will check if they have a changed gene. It can take 4 to 8 weeks to get a result for this test.
  • If your relative’s test is positive, you can have a blood test at a genetic clinic. This will test to see if you have the same changed gene, and predict your risk of getting breast cancer.

If relatives who have had cancer are not available, you can have the BRCA test if you have at least a 10% chance of having the gene mutation. This usually means you have a very strong history of breast cancer at a young age in your family.

The genetics specialists can work out your risk of getting breast cancer, and they can tell you whether you might need extra screening. 

You might start having screening from a younger age. Some people decide to have surgery to reduce their risk. You can talk about all of the different options with a genetics counsellor.


Most breast cancers happen by chance. Researchers estimate that only around 5 to 10 out of 100 breast cancers (5 to 10%) are caused by a changed gene.

BRCA Stories

Fole tested positive for the BRCA 2 gene mutation at 24 years-old after 18 months of genetic testing. Knowing her risk of a breast cancer diagnosis was high, she chose to undergo risk-reducing surgery which has given her the freedom to live her life to the fullest.

Read Fole’s Story

A woman smiling to camera, she is wearing a blue dress and has gold jewellery

BRCA in the Jewish community

Having Jewish ancestry increases your risk of having a BRCA gene change- 1 in 40 Ashkenazi Jews and around 1 in 140 Sephardi Jews has a changed BRCA gene, compared to around 1 in 250 individuals in the UK general population.

NHS England is now offering free BRCA gene testing for anyone living in England, aged 18 or over with one or more Jewish grandparent.

For more information visit Jewish BRCA.

Other changed genes:

Here is a list of other changed genes that can increase your risk of getting breast cancer. We are working on this page and we will give you more information soon.

  • TP53 gene
  • PALB2 gene
  • ATM gene
  • CHEK2 gene
  • STK11 gene
  • PTEN gene


Our health information carries the PIF TICK quality mark, so you can be assured it is reliable and trustworthy.

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This information was published in April 2021. It will be revised in April 2024.

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