5 Things To Know About Cancer and BRCA Gene Testing

News broke yesterday that Angelia Jolie chose to have both ovaries and fallopian tubes, which follows after having both of her breasts removed two years ago in another preventive measure to guard against cancer.

In her statement, which can be found in full here, she says among the many reasons she made these difficult, and courageous decisions was that she has a mutation in her BRCA1 gene. A mutation that gives her an “87 percent risk of breast cancer, and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer.” Those are high statistics. If you read her compelling story, you’ll find that many other tests and considerations helped with her final decision, but this test was the first step in understanding her risks.

According to the CDC, around 300,000 women in the US have their healthy ovaries removed each year. While their reasons vary, many do it for similar reasons to Angelina Jolie, a mutation in the BRCA1 gene. With around 15,000 deaths each year attributed to ovarian cancer, this preventative measure really could save lives.

The National Cancer Institute has published detailed information on how mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes can impact your risk of cancer. Here are just a few important facts from the National Cancer Institute to know about these genes.

What do the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes do?

BRCA1 and BRCA2 are human genes that produce tumor suppressor proteins. If they are mutated and not working properly, they are more likely to develop genetic alterations that can lead to cancer.

How do I get a mutated gene?

A harmful BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation can be inherited from a person’s mother or father. Each child of a parent who carries a mutation in one of these genes has a 50 percent chance of inheriting the mutation.

How much of an increased risk of cancer is there if I have a mutated BCRA1 or BCRA2 gene?

In breast cancer, the chance is very high. An average woman has about a 12 percent chance of developing breast cancer over her lifetime, but someone with one of the mutated genes would have between a 45 and 65 percent chance of developing breast cancer by age 70.

The chance of developing ovarian cancer is slightly lower, but no less frightening. On average, around 1.4 percent of women will develop ovarian cancer in their lifetime, but those with a mutated BCRA1 or BCRA2 gene have between an 11 to 39 percent chance of developing ovarian cancer by the time they’re 70.

How do I get tested?

The good news is the abnormalities with the BCRA1 and BCRA2 genes are actually pretty rare. Testing is recommended for anyone with a family history that would indicate they are at an increased risk for the genetic mutation. Factors to determine your risk include the presence of the following in your family history:

  • Breast cancer diagnosed before age 50
  • Cancer in both breasts
  • Both breast and ovarian cancers
  • Multiple breast cancers
  • Two or more primary types of BRCA1- or BRCA2-related cancers in a single family member
  • Cases of male breast cancer
  • Ashkenazi Jewish ethnicity

What are my options if I test positive?

Not everyone is Angelina Jolie, and every situation will be different. There are many treatment options available. Talk with your doctor about options, which may include various preventative measures, surgery, chemotherapy and more.


Do these facts shock you? Are you planning on getting tested? Have you already gotten tested? Please share why (or why not) in the comments.

 Additional image: Wikipedia



Nicole Kurz
Nicole Kurz
Nicole is a 30-something fitness and health writer who has successfully lost enough weight that two people can fit in her old pants. She races triathlons, rides bikes, is obsessed with health and wellness, isn’t afraid of the “boy weight section” at the gym. When she’s not blowing your mind with health news on Article Cats, she’s probably laughing at an inappropriate joke somewhere while drinking a cup of the strongest black coffee you can find.