A note on terms:
Everyone has breast tissue and people of all genders can get breast cancer. To be clear and consistent, we use the word ‘breasts’ in our health information, rather than boobs, pecs or chest. When we say breasts, we mean the tissue from your rib cage up to your collarbone and armpits, including your nipples.
What is BRCA?
BRCA is shorthand for Breast Cancer, but when we talk about BRCA we mean cell mutations of the BRCA gene, called BRCA 1 and BRCA 2. These cell mutations run in families (genetic), so 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 mutation of the BRCA gene. If you have a BRCA gene mutation, your risk of getting breast cancer is between 50% – 90% higher than someone without the mutation.
We all have genes that protect us against cancer. BRCA gene mutations mean one of those genes is faulty. That means it can’t repair any DNA damage caused by cancer, and the cancer can grow. Having the BRCA gene mutation doesn’t mean you have breast cancer, but it does mean your risk of getting breast cancer is much higher. There are other genes that have been shown to increase the risk of getting breast cancer, but BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 are the most common.
If you are concerned that you have a family history of breast cancer, and you are worried about your own risk, talk to your Doctor. If your Doctor thinks you may have a risk of carrying the BRCA gene mutation, they might suggest you are tested. The genetic test for BRCA has 2 steps:
- Your relative with cancer has a blood test to see if they have the gene mutation. The results of this can take 4 to 8 weeks.
- If your relative’s test is positive, you can have a blood test at a genetic clinic to see if you have the same gene mutation and predict your risk of getting breast cancer.
If relatives with 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.
Some of you might know that actress Angelina Jolie had risk-reducing cancer surgery. Angelina did not actually have cancer, but she carried a BRCA gene mutation. She had tests to find out her risks of getting breast cancer in later life and discovered her risk was very high. To reduce that risk, Angelina took the decision to have her breasts surgically removed. This is called a risk-reducing double mastectomy.
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This information was published in April 2021. It will be revised in April 2024.