Are screenings effective?
They are effective in determining if you have an elevated risk of cancer, but it’s important to note that having a BRCA gene does not necessarily mean you will develop cancer. However, since a woman with an inherited BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation has a 50-85 percent chance of developing breast cancer over her lifetime, compared to a 12 percent risk in the average woman, it’s a decision for you to make, if you would like to have this knowledg. Equally, approximately 15 percent of all ovarian cancers are thought to be caused by an inherited genetic mutation. A woman who has a mutation in BRCA1 has a 40 percent chance of developing ovarian cancer in her lifetime. If cancer runs in your family, undergoing genetic screening provides you information for a more complete understanding of your risk.
Why test? Knowledge is power.
Twenty years ago, the BRCA genetic test was expensive and not readily available. Fortunately, we’ve come a long way: testing is easy to obtain and often covered by your insurance carrier. You can even test for this gene online! However, if you have a history of breast cancer in your family, I recommend you be tested by a medical facility that provides genetic counseling. There are implications to be considered if the test comes out positive.
What happens if I test positive?
Remember, a positive test result doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to develop the disease. This is an opportunity to be proactive about your health and lifestyle choices. “Proactive” means getting checked more often to increase the chance of early detection if the disease does appear. For example, if a young woman has breast cancer in her family, and she tests positive for the BRCA gene, it’s recommended she have breast MRIs every year starting at the age of 25, and a mammogram every six months. Ovarian screenings begin when women are between 30 and 35 years of age. For a woman who tests positive for the BRCA1 gene, she may have some further decisions to make. Because ovarian cancer often originates in the fallopian tubes, she may opt to have them removed. She may also want to consider options to preserve her fertility, such as freezing eggs or embryos. Any woman who tests positive in an ovarian screening should schedule a conversation with a gynecological oncologist. Early removal of a woman’s ovaries impacts her entire body, and a GO can help her understand her options for fertility preservation as well as implications for heart and bone health, potential impacts on her lifestyle, and intimacy concerns.