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BRCA gene test for breast cancer

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What is a BRCA gene test?

This is a blood test that looks for a particular kind of mutation in the BRCA gene. Both the BRCA1 and BRCA2 are important for DNA repair at cellular level. These genes plays a role in suppressing cancer and some mutations may lead to cancer. However, it is important to remember that every mutation in this gene does not predispose a person towards cancer. Besides, there may still be other mutations that have not been identified as yet. This mutation can be inherited from either of the parents.

Why is it conducted?

The BRCA gene test is conducted to assess the probability of a woman developing ovarian cancer or, for both, men and women to develop breast cancer. Its presence has also been linked to other cancers, such as, cancer of the fallopian tube and peritoneal cancer in women. For men, it has been linked with prostate cancer.

Who should go for it?

The BRCA test simply points towards an increased chance of developing cancer and is not a diagnostic test. As such it is not used for screening purposes. However, it is advisable in certain conditions.

  • If anyone in the immediate family has had breast or ovarian cancer, then this test is generally recommended.
  • If more than one relative has breast cancer at an early age, i.e., before menopause, then this test is definitely advised.
  • If at least two relatives have ovarian cancer.
  • Women who themselves have ovarian cancer, along with another relative are advised to have this test.
  • Persons in whose family another member has tested positive for either BRCA1 or BRCA 2 mutation.
  • If any male relative has breast cancer, then again this test can help to determine your level of risk.
  • Persons who have already been diagnosed with breast cancer are advised this test to gauge the chances of it spreading or recurring.

Procedure

This is a simple blood test in which your DNA is examined and does not require any special preparation beforehand. In any case, it is better to undergo genetic counseling before you have this test. Results will be provided several weeks after testing.

Interpretation of results

Results need to be understood with caution. Moreover, this is an expensive test and does not clearly state the probability of cancer. However, it has definitely been established that for a person with this mutation in her genes, the risk is much higher than the rest of the population. But there are several other factors that lead to breast or ovarian cancer. It is important to remember that the incidence of breast cancer is much higher than mutations in these two genes.

A positive test result only confirms the presence of a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation, it does not necessarily mean that the concerned person will definitely get cancer. Another factor to keep in mind is that even though you get a negative result, it does not mean that your chances of developing breast cancer are nil.

Several options are available to lower the risk for persons who have tested positive. Apart from regular screening to help catch the cancer at an early stage, one can also opt for preventive medicines or surgery. However, the decision to do so should be arrived at only after understanding the benefits and drawbacks with a medical professional.

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Written by: Nandita tripati

Date last updated: January 10, 2015