Doctors encourage BRCA testing as a preventive measure against breast cancer

ROANOKE, Va. – It’s estimated that more than 42,000 people will die from breast cancer this year, according to the American Cancer Society. To help you understand if you’re at a greater risk of developing breast cancer, doctors are encouraging people to undergo BRCA testing.

BRCA testing is genetic testing that identifies inherited mutations that someone might have, including mutations, which are found in the BRCA genes. If someone has an inherited mutation, they are at a higher risk of developing certain types of cancers, like breast, ovarian, prostate and pancreatic cancers.

“So, BRCA genes are genes that we inherited from each of our parents. And the normal function of these genes is to repair defects and cells as they grow as they change [and] as they die. When you have a defect in a BRCA gene, you’re at an increased risk for developing certain types of cancer,” said Dr. Joanne Mortimer, a medical oncologist at the City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center.

In fact, the American Cancer Society said that about 5-10% of breast cancers are thought to be linked through changes in your genes, which are inherited by both parents. Also, people who test positive for the BRCA mutation have up to a 70% chance of getting breast cancer by 80 years old.

Mortimer said it’s important to get tested if you have a family history of cancer.

“People often assume that these genes only occur in women who are women at risk, but they are from both parents,” said Mortimer.

Doctors also said it’s important to get tested if you are already diagnosed.

“There are a number of targeted drugs that impact when you have a rapid mutation. These targeted therapies may be beneficial in the treatment of certainly breast cancer and cancer of the ovary and prostate cancer, so they do weigh into the treatment of breast cancer and ovarian cancer and prostate cancer in terms of treatment,” said Mortimer.

Jessica McGlone, who was diagnosed with breast cancer at just 32 years old, said undergoing BRCA testing saved her life.

“Because I was getting those screenings done every six months, they caught something very early. I was stage one. And then it helped me make informed decisions about my next steps,” said McGlone.

She said that she underwent BRCA testing after her mom was diagnosed 12 years ago. She said since she tested positive for the BRCA 2 mutation; she had screenings every six months.

“I would definitely recommend talking to your doctor about it, and if people are hesitant, you know, go to your doctor and ask those questions. I think you shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions about your own health. And you should feel empowered to kind of take charge of your own health and to, you know, to get the testing, get the testing done, and your doctor would be able to help you to make those decisions,” said McGlone.

Every year, about 400 people in the U.S. carry an inherited BRCA mutation, according to the National Cancer Institute. You can learn more about BRCA testing here.

About the Author

Keshia Lynn is a Multimedia Journalist for WSLS. She was born and raised in Maryland and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Law and Society from American University and a Master’s degree in Mass Communication from Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.

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