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Breast Cancer (BRCA) Gene Test

Why It Is Done

If your family history or personal history indicates a high chance for breast cancer, a BRCA gene test is done to check your chance of developing this cancer.

A BRCA gene test does not test for cancer itself. It is used to help women who have a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer find out if their chance is high enough to think about prevention measures before cancer develops. These measures include:

  • Having screening tests (such as clinical breast exams, mammograms, and MRIs) more often and starting them at an earlier age.
  • Taking medicines such as tamoxifen or raloxifene.
  • Having a preventive mastectomy.
  • Having their ovaries removed (oophorectomy).

Men with a family history of BRCA changes also may want to be tested to find their chance of breast cancer.

For a woman who has ovarian cancer, or for a man or a woman who has breast cancer, results from a BRCA gene test can help other family members know their chances of these and perhaps other cancers. If the person with breast or ovarian cancer has normal BRCA gene test results, family members probably would not benefit from the BRCA genetic test.

How To Prepare

Genetic counseling is strongly recommended before and after a BRCA test to help you understand the benefits, risks, and possible outcomes of the test. A BRCA test gives you the chance to make informed medical and lifestyle decisions. Genetic counselors are trained to talk with you about the test and its results, including the medical information and your emotional concerns.

This test may cause you some worry, both before and after the test. Talk with a genetic counselor before the test to help you prepare for and cope with this worry. Think about what you may do if your test is positive. For example, would you consider any prevention measures, such as the following:

  • For breast cancer: A yearly mammogram and/or an MRI, a clinical breast exam at regular times, preventive mastectomy (removal of both breasts), having your ovaries removed, taking a medicine (tamoxifen), or having your children before age 30
  • For ovarian cancer: Having your ovaries removed (oophorectomy) after you are done having children, or after age 35

You will be asked to sign a consent form that says you understand the risks of the test and agree to have it done.

Talk to your doctor about any concerns you have regarding the need for the test, its risks, or how it will be done. To help you understand the importance of this test, fill out the medical test information form(What is a PDF document?).

No other special preparation is needed before you have this test.

Breast Cancer Risk: Should I Have a BRCA Gene Test?

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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