Dr. Mary-Claire King (discovered the BRCA gene mutation and the relationship between breast and ovarian cancers) stated at our recent national conference: “With what we know today, no women with a BRCA mutation should suffer from breast or ovarian cancer!”
What is the BRCA gene?
Everyone is born with BRCA genes. BRCA stands for BReast CAncer susceptibility gene. Normally, BRCA genes work to suppress tumors from growing by correcting problems in the DNA strands. In other words, they clean up some of the messes or mistakes the cells in our bodies might make. When these genes are mutated, they are no longer able to repair these problems and thereby help suppress tumors, leading to an increased risk of some cancers. Mutations in the BRCA gene are associated with breast, ovarian, prostate, and pancreatic cancer.
How do I know if I have the BRCA mutation?
Genes that you inherit from your parents can be mutated, which changes how they would normally function. You can receive a normal BRCA gene from one parent and a mutated BRCA gene from the other. This means you have the BRCA mutation. It does not mean you will get cancer. BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are responsible for repairing problems in your DNA. When these genes are mutated, their normal function may be altered. This means that tumors are more likely to grow, leading to an increased risk of cancer. The only way to know if you have a BRCA mutation is to get genetic testing. Leading researcher have suggested adopting Population-Based Screening (full article) for BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations: Many women with mutations in these genes are identified as carriers only after their first cancer diagnosis because their family history of cancer was not sufficient to suggest genetic testing. To identify a woman as a carrier only after she develops cancer is a failure of cancer prevention.
What should I do if I find out I have a BRCA mutation?
If you have a BRCA mutation, you’re at a higher risk of developing cancer. With this knowledge, you may want to consider scheduling regular cancer screenings. And if you already have cancer, knowing that you have a BRCA mutation can help determine whether or not you can receive treatments specifically for people with BRCA mutations. Because these mutations can be hereditary, knowing your BRCA status can inform you of your family’s potential cancer risk.
What if I have a family history of breast, ovarian, prostate, and pancreatic cancers?
BRCA's Leading Researcher, Dr Mary-Clair King (discovered the BRAC gene mutation and the relationship between breast and ovarian cancers), stated at the 2019 OCRA National Conference:“With what we know today, no women with a BRCA mutation should suffer from breast or ovarian cancer!” “The issue now is locating and testing every woman (in the potential high risk group) to find the women with this dangerous genetic mutation. Advocacy groups, like Hope for Heather, have the important role of educating the general population on the genetic relationship the BRCA gene presents.”
How might a BRCA gene mutation impact my life?
A woman’s risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer in her lifetime is greatly increased with a mutation of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene. About 1.3% of women in the general population will develop ovarian cancer sometime during their lives. By contrast, it is estimated that about 44% of women who inherit a harmful BRCA1 mutation and about 17% of women who inherit a harmful BRCA2 mutation will develop ovarian cancer by the age of 80.
Angelina Jolie's Experience
In 2015, Pam Belluck published a piece in the New York Times where she analyzed Jolie Pitt’s medical decision making. She writes: “Cancer experts said Tuesday that the actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie Pitt was wise to have had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed last week because she carries a genetic mutation, BRCA1, that significantly increases the risk of ovarian cancer, a disease so difficult to detect that it is often found only at an advanced, untreatable stage".
Angelina Jolie Pitt writes that knowledge is power. Because of the results her genetic screening provided, she investigated and inquired differently - and was able to act - toward a solution to save her life, an option her mother never had. This defines the benefits of precision medicine.
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Mutations in the BRCA gene are associated with breast, ovarian, prostate, and pancreatic cancer. Women with a BRCA1 mutation have up to a 39% chance of developing
ovarian cancer by age 70.