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BRCA: What is it and why are women having their breasts removed?

BRCA. It is hot in the news now since Angelina Jolie, Christina Applegate and Sharon Osborne have gone public about having double mastectomies due to having the BRCA gene mutation.

BRCA1 and BRCA2 are genes that help prevent uncontrollable cell growth which leads to cancers.  Everyone has BRCA genes, yes even men. When the BRCA gene has mutations then these genes are not able to function so they become higher risk for cancer to develop.

It is uncommon to have this gene. Only about 10% of breast cancers are due to the BRCA mutated gene. If you do have the BRCA mutated gene then you are at a higher risk for developing breast and ovarian cancer.

All women in the general population have a 12% chance of developing breast cancer in their lifetime. This means that if there are 1000 women in a room, 120 of them will get breast cancer sometime in their life.

A woman with the BRCA gene mutation has a 60% chance of developing breast cancer. Of those 1000 women in the room, 600 of them will develop breast cancer.  A woman with the BRCA mutation is 5 times more likely to develop breast cancer sometime in their life.

In regards to ovarian cancer, all women in the general population have a 1.4 % chance of developing ovarian cancer in their lifetime. Once again using the example of a room of 1000 women, 14 of them will develop ovarian cancer.

A woman with the BRCA gene mutation has 15-40% chance of developing ovarian cancer in their lifetime. Of those 1000 women in a room, 150-400 of them will get ovarian cancer.

There are tests that test for the BRCA gene mutation. Anyone who is concerned about having the BRCA gene mutation should get genetic counseling. It is recommended that the person who has the diagnosed cancer get the testing done. If that person tests positive then other family members can be tested to see if they also have the mutation.

I need to stress that a positive test of the BRCA gene mutation only gives information that a person is at higher risk for developing cancer. It cannot tell whether you will actually develop cancer. Not all people who inherit the BRCA gene mutation will develop breast or ovarian cancer.

So get your mammogram, chances are you will be able to keep your body parts.

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