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A breast cancer (BRCA) gene test is a blood test to check for changes (mutations) in genes called BRCA1 and BRCA2. This test can help you know your chance of getting breast cancer and ovarian cancer. A BRCA gene test does not test for cancer itself.
A woman's risk of breast and ovarian cancer is higher if she has BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene changes. Men with these gene changes have a higher risk of breast cancer. And both men and women with these changes may be at higher risk for other cancers. You can inherit the gene changes from either your mother's or father's side of the family.
This test is only done for people who have a strong family history of breast cancer or ovarian cancer or who already have one of these diseases. If none of these is true for you, you are not likely to have a BRCA gene change. Only about 2 or 3 out of 1,000 adult women have a BRCA gene change. That means 997 or 998 out of 1,000 women do not have this change.footnote 1
There are some important things to keep in mind when you are thinking about having a BRCA gene test.
It is very important to have genetic counseling both before and after this test. It can help you understand the benefits, risks, and possible outcomes of the test.
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A BRCA gene test is done to find out if you have BRCA gene changes that increase your risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
You may be more likely to have a BRCA gene change if you:footnote 1
The results of a BRCA gene test can help you find out how high your cancer risk is. If it is high, you might decide to take steps to lower your risk. There are several things you might do, such as:
If you have a family member who has breast or ovarian cancer, you may want to ask that family member to have a gene test first. If your relative's test finds a changed BRCA gene, you and other family members can then be tested for that specific gene change. But if your family member's test is negative, it is not likely that you carry the gene change.
The information from a BRCA gene test can have a deep impact on your life. So it is very important to get genetic counseling before you have this test. A genetic counselor can talk with you about the test, what the results mean, and your medical and emotional concerns.
You will be asked to sign a consent form that says you understand the risks of the test and agree to have it done.
Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns about the need for the test, its risks, or how it will be done. To help you understand the importance of this test, fill out the medical test information form(What is a PDF document?).
The health professional taking a sample of your blood will:
The blood sample is taken from a vein in your arm. An elastic band is wrapped around your upper arm. It may feel tight. You may feel nothing at all from the needle, or you may feel a quick sting or pinch.
It is common to worry before a BRCA test and while waiting for its results.
There is very little chance of a problem from having a blood sample taken from a vein.
The information from a BRCA test can affect you and your family in many ways. For example:
A breast cancer (BRCA) gene test is a blood test to check for changes (mutations) in genes called BRCA1 and BRCA2. This test can help find out your chance of getting breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
It may take several weeks to get the results.
No changes were found in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes.
A negative result and your overall family risk must be considered together. If you have a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer, your cancer risk may be higher than normal even if you have a negative BRCA result.
BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene changes are present.
Your range of risk will depend on the type of genes you have and your personal and family history of cancer.
Men who have BRCA2 gene changes have a higher risk for breast cancer than men at average risk. The same is true for men who have BRCA1 gene changes, although their risk isn't as high. Men with BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene changes also have a higher risk for prostate cancer.footnote 2
This result may mean that a gene change is present, but it is hard for your doctor to tell if the change is important and if it affects your chances of getting cancer.
Your doctor will talk with you about anything that may keep you from having the test or that may change the test results.
Genetic counseling before and after a BRCA test can help you understand the benefits, risks, and possible outcomes of testing.
CitationsU.S. Preventive Services Task Force (2013). Risk assessment, genetic counseling, and genetic testing for BRCA-related cancer in women: U.S. Preventive Task Force recommendation statement. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. http://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/uspstf12/brcatest/brcatestfinalrs.htm. Accessed March 6, 2014.National Cancer Institute (2016). BRCA1 and BRCA2: Cancer risk and genetic testing. National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/genetics/brca-fact-sheet. Accessed April 6, 2016.
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerSarah Marshall, MD - Family MedicineE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal MedicineKathleen Romito, MD - Family MedicineElizabeth T. Russo, MD - Internal MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerWendy Y. Chen, MD, MPH, MD, MPH - Medical Oncology, Hematology
Current as ofJune 8, 2017
Current as of: June 8, 2017
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine & E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Elizabeth T. Russo, MD - Internal Medicine & Wendy Y. Chen, MD, MPH, MD, MPH - Medical Oncology, Hematology
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