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Breast Cancer (BRCA) Gene Test

A breast cancer (BRCA) gene test is a blood test to check for specific changes (mutations) in genes that help control normal cell growth. Finding changes in these genes, called BRCA1 and BRCA2, can help determine your chance of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer. A BRCA gene test does not test for cancer itself. This test is only done for people with a strong family history of breast cancer or ovarian cancer, and sometimes for those who already have one of these diseases. Genetic counseling before and after a BRCA test is very important to help you understand the benefits, risks, and possible outcomes of the test.

A woman's risk of breast and ovarian cancer is higher if she has BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene changes. Men with these gene changes have an increased risk of breast cancer. And both men and women with these changes may be at an increased risk for other cancers. The gene changes can be inherited from either your mother's or father's side of the family.

Certain people have a higher chance of inheriting BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene changes.1

  • Ashkenazi Jewish women (whose ancestors came from Eastern Europe) are more likely to be BRCA gene carriers. Some experts recommend gene tests for women who are of Ashkenazi Jewish descent if they have one or both of the following:
    • Any first-degree relative with breast or ovarian cancer at age 50 or younger. First-degree relatives are parents, sisters and brothers, and children.
    • Two second-degree relatives on the same side of the family with breast or ovarian cancer. Second-degree relatives are aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, and grandparents.
  • If you are not of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, some experts recommend a gene test if you have one or more of the following:
    • Two first-degree relatives with breast cancer, one of whom was diagnosed before age 50
    • Three or more first- or second-degree relatives with breast cancer, diagnosed at any age
    • Both breast and ovarian cancer among your first- and second-degree relatives
    • A first-degree relative with cancer in both breasts
    • Two or more relatives with ovarian cancer
    • One relative with both breast and ovarian cancer
    • A male relative with breast cancer

If you don't meet any of these criteria, you are not likely to have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene change. Only about 2 out of 100 adult women have an increased risk of having a BRCA gene change.2

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: June 28, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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