Health Magazine

The Know: BRCA Education Initiative

Posted on the 15 May 2014 by Jean Campbell


The Know: BRCA Education Initiative aims to build awareness about how BRCA gene mutations affect risk for breast and ovarian cancer. It was authorized by the Education and Awareness Requires Learning Young (EARLY) Act, section 10413 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Public Law 111-148).

The EARLY Act authorizes the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to develop initiatives to increase knowledge of breast health and breast cancer among women, particularly among those under age 40 and those at higher risk for developing the disease.

When I was diagnosed with a second primary, in my other breast, my oncologist encouraged me to have genetic testing. Since four of my cousins had been diagnosed with breast cancer, my oncologist wanted to explore a possible genetic cause for my breast cancer, specifically a BRCA gene mutation.

My testing came back negative, not only for the BRCA gene, but for any known genetic mutations. I was not surprised. My cousins, as well as I, were in our fifties when diagnosed; Many women and men with the BRCA gene mutation are usually diagnosed at a younger age.

The CDC shares the following about the BRCA mutation:

  • While most breast cancers are found in women who are 50 years old or older, about 9,000 women who are younger than 40 years old are diagnosed with breast cancer each year in the United States. In this younger group, breast cancer is generally more aggressive, found at a later stage, and has lower survival rates.
  • Two genes influence risk for breast cancer: BRCA1 and BRCA2. All men and women have these genes. Normally, they help protect you from getting cancer. But when one or both of them have a mutation (change), they increase your breast and ovarian cancer risk. Without treatment, women with a BRCA gene mutation are seven times more likely to get breast cancer and 30 times more likely to get ovarian cancer before age 70 than other women.

The CDC Suggests:

  • Learn your family history of cancer. Talk to your doctor if you have
    • Multiple relatives with breast cancer.
    • Any relatives with ovarian cancer.
    • Relatives who were diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer before age 50.

The Know:BRCA tool can help you learn about BRCA genes and assess your risk of having a BRCA mutation. Learning your risk can help you and your doctor make important decisions about your health. There is also a Know:BRCA tool for clinicians.

If You ARE at increased risk:

The only way to know for sure if you have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation is to get a genetic test. You should meet with a genetic counselor before getting a genetic test. Your doctor can refer you to one. Most people do not need genetic counseling and testing. A genetic test helps only the small number of people with a higher risk for having a mutation. If you learn that you have a BRCA gene mutation, you can take important steps to reduce your cancer risk.

If you Are  NOT at increased risk:

Most women who get breast and ovarian cancer do not have a BRCA gene mutation. If you do not have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, follow recommended breast cancer screening guidelines.

Sources information: CDC

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