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Cancer Health Center

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Family History and the Risk for Breast or Ovarian Cancer - Topic Overview

What is a BRCA gene change? continued...

Having a BRCA gene change is rare. Most women with a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer don't have a BRCA gene change.

Before you have a gene test, you will need to see a genetic counselor. Counseling will help you make an informed decision about whether to have a BRCA gene test. It is often covered by insurance, but check with your insurance company to find out for sure.

You may be more likely to have a BRCA gene change if you:4

  • Were diagnosed with breast cancer before age 50.
  • Have had breast cancer in both breasts.
  • Have had breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
  • Have one or more male family members who have had breast cancer.
  • Have multiple cases of breast cancer in the family.
  • Have at least one family member who has had BRCA-related cancer.
  • Are an Ashkenazi Jew (a Jewish person whose ancestors came from Eastern Europe).

In the table below, the figures are only rough estimates from research studies. Lifetime risk means the chance that you will get this cancer sometime during your life. These numbers may not apply to you, but they can give you an idea of how high your risk may be.

How does having a BRCA gene change affect your lifetime risk?

Breast cancer risk

Ovarian cancer risk

Average women

About 12 out of 100 women will get breast cancer.

About 1 out of 100 women will get ovarian cancer.

BRCA gene carriers

About 35 to 84 out of 100 will get breast cancer.

About 15 to 40 out of 100 will get ovarian cancer.5

In the table above, the range for BRCA gene carriers is very broad. That's because different studies have had different results. More study is needed to get a clearer idea of what the risk is for women who have a BRCA gene change.

Pictures may help you understand these numbers better. See the following pictures to get a better idea of how much a BRCA gene change increases your risk for:

If you are worried that you may have a BRCA gene change, talk to your doctor.

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