BRCA1 and BRCA2 Testing: Is it Something You Should Consider?

Stay out of the sun! Don’t smoke! Don’t use a microwave! Don’t drink that! Don’t eat that! Don’t…. actually, maybe just don’t breathe at all; it causes cancer.

While we highly recommend doing all you can to avoid unhealthy habits like smoking and sun bathing, we also know of one too many cases of non-smoking, healthy eating, sun avoiding people diagnosed with cancer, making it feel all that more terrifying!

Part of the human condition is wanting to be in control of at least our own health, relationships, emotions, careers, etc. Which is why when genetic testing for BRCA1 and  BRCA2 (also known as “the cancer gene”) became available many women ran to their doctors with the hopes of being able to control just one more part of their life.

I so wish I could tell you that this is a fool proof method for avoiding breast and/or ovarian cancer all together, but sadly, I can’t. And although we are grateful at a chance to reduce the risk of cancer for even just one patient, getting tested and the associated surgeries for women who test positive is not recommended for everyone.

Testing is recommended for women with a history of breast cancer at the age of 50 or younger, women with a family history of breast and/or ovarian cancer, women with closely related family members who have been diagnosed with breast and/or ovarian cancer at the age of 45 or younger and women of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage.

A common dilemma that women who are found to be carriers of the BRCA gene face is the decision to undergo a double mastectomy and a hysterectomy. There are other precautionary methods such as drugs and careful monitoring, but the increased rates of women opting for these surgeries have risen by as much as 50% in recent years, even though the chance of getting cancer still remains.

A recent survey showed that although women had been directly informed that the surgeries do not guarantee avoiding cancer altogether, they had chosen to have the surgeries performed. When asked why, 90 percent of them indicated peace of
mind as a key part of their decision making process, along with reduced risk and improved survival.

Like all medical related decisions, this is something each woman needs to discuss with her doctor and make an individual choice about. There are risks and benefits that each woman will need to consider.

The human condition of feeling in control is a strong one, and although we can’t always decisions we CAN control accessing any and all available information needed when it comes to our health! So if you’re wondering if the BRCA1 and BRCA2 test is something you should consider, do your research and make an appointment with your doctor and find out more about it and how it pertains to your health.