The BRCA (BReast CAncer Susceptibility Gene) was highlighted in the media when Angelina Jolie revealed she had a prophylactic double mastectomy after testing positive for this gene. Women with the BRCA gene have a higher risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer than the general population. BRCA is responsible for 5-7% of breast cancers and about 10% of ovarian cancers.
Recently, a study found that African-American women with breast cancer are more likely than women in the general population to have genetic mutations linked to their disease, and some of those mutations extend beyond the common BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations. In fact, 1 in 5 black women in this study had a BRCA mutation.
This new data can explain why black women have higher rates of breast cancer at young ages, more aggressive forms of breast cancer, and a worse chance of survival. Studies also reveal that African American women are less likely to be referred for genetic counseling even if they meet the criteria.
To better understand genetic breast cancer and your risk, here are the answers to some of the most asked questions:
Q: What is BRCA?
BRCA 1 and 2 are inherited tumor suppressor genes. Mutations in these genes cause breast and ovarian cancer. BRCA 1 has a lifetime breast cancer risk of 65-74% and a lifetime ovarian cancer risk of 39-46%. BRCA 2 has a lifetime breast cancer risk of 65-74% and a lifetime ovarian cancer risk of 12-20%.
Q: Who needs to be tested for BRCA?
All women who meet the following criteria:
- A personal history of breast cancer diagnosed at age 40 years or younger, breast cancer affecting both breasts, or both breast and ovarian cancers
- A personal history of ovarian cancer and a close relative with ovarian cancer or premenopausal breast cancer or both
- A personal history of breast cancer at age 50 or younger and a close relative with ovarian cancer or male breast cancer at any age
- A personal history of breast cancer at age 50 or younger and a close relative with breast cancer 50 years or younger
- A personal history of breast cancer at any age and two or more close relatives with breast cancer at any age.
- A close relative with a known BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation
- Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry and with a close relative who has breast or ovarian cancer, a personal history of ovarian cancer, or a personal history of breast cancer at age 50 or younger
- Women with ovarian cancer, primary peritoneal cancer, or fallopian tube cancer of high grade, serous histology at any age
- Unaffected women with a close relative that meets one of the previous criteria