Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Breast Cancer Health Center

Font Size

Only High-Risk Women Need Breast Cancer Gene Test: Experts

Even those with family history of BRCA mutations should talk with professionals first, panel says

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Dennis Thompson

HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, Dec. 23, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- Nine of 10 women do not need and should not receive genetic testing to see if they are at risk for breast or ovarian cancer, an influential panel of health experts announced Monday.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) reaffirmed its previous recommendation from 2005 that only a limited number of women with a family history of breast cancer be tested for mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes that can increase their cancer risk.

Even then, these women should discuss the test with both their family doctor and a genetic counselor before proceeding with the BRCA genetic test, the panel said.

"Not all people who have positive family histories should be tested. It's not at all simple or straightforward," said Dr. Virginia Moyer, the task force's chair.

Interest among women in genetic testing for breast cancer has greatly increased, partially due to Hollywood film star Angelina Jolie's announcement in May that she underwent a double mastectomy because she carried the BRCA1 mutation.

A Harris Interactive/HealthDay poll conducted a few months after Jolie's announcement found as many as 6 million women in the United States planned to get medical advice about having a preventive mastectomy or ovary removal because of the actress' personal decision.

On average, mutations of the BRCA genes can increase breast cancer risk between 45 percent to 65 percent, according to the American Cancer Society.

The problem is that there are myriad mutations of the BRCA gene. Doctors have identified some mutations that increase breast cancer risk, but there are many more BRCA mutations where the increased risk is either low or as yet unknown.

"The test is not something that comes back positive or negative. The test comes back a whole lot of different ways, and that has to be interpreted," Moyer said. "There are a variety of mutations. Often you get what appears to be a negative test but we call it an 'uninformative' negative because it just doesn't tell you anything. A woman would walk away from that with no idea, but worried, and that's not helpful."

Today on WebMD

Breast Cancer Overview
From self-exams and biopsies to reconstruction, we’ve got you covered.
Dealing with breast cancer
Get answers to your questions.
woman having mammogram
Experts don’t agree on all fronts, but you can be your own advocate.
woman undergoing breast cancer test
Many women worry. But the truth? Most abnormalities aren’t breast cancer.
Breast Cancer Treatments Improving
Resolved To Quit Smoking
Woman getting mammogram
Screening Tests for Women
ovarian cancer overview slideshow
serious woman
what is your cancer risk
10 Ways to Revitalize Slideshow