Smiling group of women

Should all women get tested for the BRCA mutation?

High-profile cases such as Angelina Jolie’s have shed light on genetic mutations that can lead to cancer.

Jolie recently announced her decision to undergo preventive surgery to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes after genetic testing revealed she has the BRCA1 mutation.

BRCA stands for breast cancer susceptibility genes, a class of genes that are tumor suppressors. Mutations of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes have been linked to hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.

According to the National Cancer Institute, about 12 percent of women in the general population will develop breast cancer sometime during their lives. By contrast, up to 65 percent of women who inherit a BRCA1 mutation and 45 percent of women who inherit a BRCA2 mutation will develop breast cancer by age 70.

Only about 1.4 percent of women in the general population will develop ovarian cancer. By contrast, 39 percent of women who inherit a BRCA1 mutation and up to 17 percent of women who inherit a BRCA2 mutation will develop ovarian cancer by age 70.

To determine if you carry the BRCA gene, get to know your family history. If there is a first or second degree connection to breast or ovarian cancer in the family, your risk for being diagnosed with cancer is increased.

"Women with family history of breast and/or ovarian cancer are encouraged to talk to their doctor and seek genetic counseling and testing," said Dr. Wafic ElMasri, gynecologic oncology specialist at Community Physician Network.

Genetic counseling and testing help assess hereditary risk of cancer and are trained to help women determine what screenings may benefit them and protect their health.

"Seeking consultation with a specialist will help you understand your risk and the risk-reducing options available to you," said ElMasri.

ElMasri explained that genetic counselors are also trained to help women deal with what comes after a positive screening reveals they are at risk for cancer.

"Women can then determine what options are available to them in order to monitor and/or reduce cancer risk."

Preventive surgeries, like Jolie's, are not the only option for women who receive a positive test result for a BRCA mutation.

"While removing the tubes and ovaries is advised once child bearing is complete, screening tests and other risk reducing options are available to women who want to delay surgical intervention," said ElMasri.

For more information about BRCA mutations and genetic counseling and testing for cancer, check our website or call 317-621-8988.