Hereditary Breast & Ovarian Cancer Risk

Genetic testing is available for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. Most breast and ovarian cancer is not caused by inherited mutations, so genetic testing will not help most women with a family health history of breast and ovarian cancer.
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What is a BRCA gene test?
A BRCA gene test uses a sample of your blood, saliva (spit), or cells from inside of your cheek to look for changes in your BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes that may increase your risk of cancer. Changes in your genes are called gene variants or mutations.

The most common cancers linked to harmful BRCA variants are:

Breast cancer:
BRCA is short for breast cancer gene. The increased risk for breast cancer mostly affects females. But the breast cancer risk for males who have a harmful BRCA variant is higher than for other males.
Ovarian cancer:
This is cancer of the female reproductive glands where eggs form.
Prostate cancer:
This is cancer of the male reproductive gland that makes fluid for semen.
Pancreatic cancer:
This is cancer of the pancreas, an organ that helps you digest food and makes important hormones.

Gene List


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You might be at increased risk of having an inherited gene mutation that increases the risk of breast and ovarian cancers — and a candidate for genetic testing — if you have:

A personal history of breast cancer diagnosed before age 45
A personal history of breast cancer diagnosed before age 50 and a second primary breast cancer, one or more relatives with breast cancer, or an unknown or limited family medical history
A personal history of triple negative breast cancer diagnosed at age 60 or younger
A personal history of two or more types of cancer
A personal history of ovarian cancer
A personal history of male breast cancer
A personal history of breast cancer and one or more relatives with breast cancer diagnosed before age 50, two or more relatives diagnosed with breast cancer at any age, one or more relatives with ovarian cancer, one or more relatives with male breast cancer, or two or more relatives with prostate cancer or pancreatic cancer
A personal history of breast cancer and Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jewish ancestry
A personal history of prostate cancer or pancreatic cancer with two or more relatives with BRCA-associated cancers
A history of breast cancer at a young age in two or more blood relatives, such as your parents, siblings or children
A relative with a known BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation
One or more relatives with a history of cancer that would meet any of these criteria for gene testing
HBOC is an inherited genetic condition. This means that the cancer risk is passed from generation to generation in a family. There are 2 primary genes linked with most families who have HBOC: BRCA1 and BRCA2. BRCA stands for BReast CAncer. A “mutation,” or harmful genetic change, in either BRCA1 or BRCA2 gives a woman an increased lifetime risk of developing breast and ovarian cancers. Men with these gene mutations also have an increased risk of breast cancer and prostate cancer. There is a slight increase in the risk of other cancers including pancreatic cancer and melanoma among people with BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations.

Not all families with multiple cases of breast and ovarian cancer have mutations in BRCA1 or BRCA2. There are also other genes that have been linked with an increased risk of developing breast and other cancers, such as mutations in the TP53, PTEN, CDH1, ATM, CHEK2, or PALB2 tumor suppressor genes and others. Blood tests now include many of these genes, including BRCA1 or BRCA2, in a single, multiple-gene panel test.


There's no medical risk associated with being tested for a BRCA gene mutation other than the slight risks — including lightheadedness, bleeding or bruising — of having your blood drawn. Other consequences surrounding genetic testing include the emotional, financial, medical and social implications of your test results.
Feelings of anxiety, anger, sadness or depression
Concerns over possible insurance discrimination
Strained family relationships over learning of a familial genetic mutation
Difficult decisions about preventive measures that have long-term consequences
Feelings of inevitability that you'll get cancer

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