BRCA Testing: What You Should Know

Cancer Survivor with Doctor

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CHARLOTTE – What is BRCA Testing? BRCA Testing gives a patient vital information about their current gene makeup and their other family members’ chance of developing life-threatening cancers. 

BRCA stands for BReast CAncer genes that serve as proteins meant to help repair damaged DNA within the body. Each of us carries two copies of BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. One from each one of the parents is inherited. These genes are “tumor suppressor genes,” and when the body has undergone certain changes, the gene can be harmfully mutated. When the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are inherited and the mutation is present, it can lead to the development of cancer.



How do you know if you should get BRCA Testing? Typically, women who have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer are the most at risk for similar cancers. It is recommended that whether they have a current cancer diagnosis or not that the test should be performed. During a screening, it is important to know as much as possible about the family history. If the mother or the sisters, along with any of the family members have been diagnosed with breast (especially if a male family member) or ovarian cancer, it is always a recommendation. It is highly suggested that every woman who is at high risk for hereditary cancers be tested through genetic screening.

Cancer Survivor hugging young girl
Cancer Survivor hugging young girl

Why is testing for the BRCA Gene important? Testing for the BRCA gene can be completed for several reasons.  To list a few, it can give peace of mind, and proactive health screening will help understand when a family is at risk. Peace of mind may help some sleep better at night and give them an understanding of where their current status of the gene is present in the family heredity. When the gene is not present, the fewer cases one may ever experience certain types of cancer in their life. Completing a BRCA screening is a great proactive measure for health concerns. If the mutated gene could be present, being proactive measure surrounding mental and physical health can be taken. There are mental health discussions that can be very helpful in the journey along with physical health early interventions that can be life-saving. Being treated for the mutation before it becomes life-threatening is a very proactive measure to take. Knowing if the BRCA gene is present can help predict family risk.  The screening gives vital information about the risk that is present in families developing cancer, and being able to share the results can save lives. It also helps determine if other family members should consider being screened as well.

Are there risks associated with having the BRCA test completed? The testing and screening are relatively risk-free. The test is completed by either a blood draw or a swab of the cheek. Some could experience lightheadedness during the blood drawing process or a slight bruise, but overall the process is simple and life-saving. The test often is done right in the office, and one is able to receive mental health therapy before and after the screening.  Because testing can cause increased stress, anxiety, or depression it is very important to be open about the test and make sure that it is addressed with a physician.

How should it be determined if the BRCA test should be completed? When someone knows that their family history puts them at high risk for the BRCA gene to be present, it is important for them to have the screening as soon as possible. If the gene is present, a physician is able to discuss treatment options that are able to stop cancer in its tracks or prevent it from coming back. The test is life-saving and allows one to know what options are available to ensure that they are able to live a long thriving life. 

Headshot of Dr. Peter Salib
Headshot of Dr. Peter Salib

Dr. Peter Salib, OB/GYN at Novant Health Southeast OB/GYN, says, “Important advancements in technology have opened the way to improve women’s ability to be screened appropriately based on their risk. Make sure to be screened based on your individual risk.”

When the BRCA gene mutations are present one has a greater chance of developing breast or ovarian cancer. Having the test completed can not only save the life of the one having the test completed but family members as well. Salib also advocates speaking with your physician regarding your risks and having the test completed at a clinical testing site. There are many tests on the market, but having your physician complete the test within the clinical site also gives one access to the mental health support that is vital in the process. Physical health and mental health both need support before, during, and after the screening process. It is important for one to have that support during the journey. For more information and tools visit https://www.komen.org/.

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