Let’s admit it: Even if you aren’t a celebrity hound, from time to time, famous people do something that catches our attention. And in 2013, Angelina Jolie did just that. The actress revealed to the world she had preventative breast cancer surgery; all because she received a positive result on genetic BCRA testing.
What’s BRCA testing, you ask?
According to the Susan G. Komen Foundation, BRCA testing is a genetic test, performed from a blood sample, to access a woman’s genetic risk for breast cancer.
Approximately 5-10% of breast cancer cases are related to an inherited genetic mutation known as BRCA1 or BRCA2 (breast cancer gene 1, breast cancer gene 2). And women, like Angelina Jolie, who test positive for one or both of these genetic mutations have a significantly increased risk for breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
“BRCA is genetic testing to identify higher breast and ovarian cancer risk which can be performed at your doctor’s office with a blood test that usually takes 2-4 weeks for results,” says Chief Medical Officer and founder of saludmóvil™, Dr. Joseph Mosquera.
“BRCA are two human genes (BRCA1/BRCA2) on our chromosomes that produce substances called proteins. These proteins help protect and repair cells from certain cancers (breast and ovarian cancer are the most common).
“Whenever these cells are damaged by either the environment or hereditary reasons, they undergo mutations. Cancer cells are more likely to form when the BRCA genes are not working properly.”
Breast cancer risk for women with BRCA mutation
Having a preventative mastectomy (the removal of one or both breasts) is not a decision to take lightly. So it stands to reason there must be some incentive for women with a BRCA mutation since some of them are willing to undergo this elective surgery.
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For most women, it has to do with cancer risk reduction.
The average woman has a breast cancer risk of approximately 12%. For women with a BRCA genetic mutation, cancer risk goes up drastically–to between approximately 40 and 85%.
What’s more, a woman with a BRCA mutation also has an increased risk for ovarian cancer; the average woman has a 2% risk, while a woman with this genetic abnormality has a risk between 16 and 44%.
Removing the breasts through a preventative mastectomy can reduce the cancer risk in women with genetic BRCA mutations by as much as 90%, according to breastcancer.org. Removal of the ovaries and fallopian tubes can also reduce cancer risk in those areas by as much as 50%.
Other breast cancer risk factors and medical conditions may add to a woman’s decision to have a preventative mastectomy. For example, women with a BRCA mutation who also smoke, have dense breast tissue, have other breast issues (benign tumors, fibrosis, calcifications), are overweight, drink alcohol, or who started menstruating before the age of 12, may decide the risks of surgery are far less than the risks of cancer later in life.
“BRCA damaged genes can also increase the risk of certain cancers in men which include breast, prostatic, peritoneal, and pancreatic. In women, the risk of ovarian and peritoneal cancers are also increased,” explains Dr. Mosquera.