Genetic Testing for BRCA Gene Mutations
What it is: The BRCA gene mutation test uses blood or saliva samples to detect harmful mutations in BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, which raise the risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer in some women. The USPSTF recommends BRCA testing for women with a family history of breast, ovarian, fallopian tube or peritoneal cancers. A positive BRCA test result means you have a 45 to 65 percent risk of developing breast cancer, compared to the 12 percent risk for women overall, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Risk for ovarian cancer rises from 1.4 percent in women overall, to 11 to 39 percent for women with a BRCA mutation. A negative test means you have no high-risk genes, while an ambiguous result — which happens in about 10 percent of BRCA tests — means that your cancer risk is unknown.
Why you should consider BRCA testing: Getting tested for BRCA can give you the peace of mind of knowing your status — whether positive or negative. If your test results are positive, you will be able to make informed choices to reduce your breast cancer risk, such as considering prophylactic mastectomy. On the other hand, BRCA tests can also raise your anxiety levels about cancer risks, not to mention heightening your concern for family members who may carry the genes.