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BRCA Mutations: When to Test Your Genes for Breast Cancer

Cancer may be in your genes

You’ve heard of inheriting genes from your parents, like your eye and hair color, but what about inheriting breast cancer?

BRCA1 and BRCA2 are inherited gene mutations linked to an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, 12 percent of women in the U.S. will develop breast cancer at some point. But 72 percent of women with a BRCA1 mutation and 69 percent with a BRCA2 mutation will develop breast cancer.

BRCA testing is an effective way to determine if you have the gene mutation and requires a blood or saliva sample. But genetic mutations are very rare. According to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, most women diagnosed with breast cancer do not have a BRCA genetic mutation, and testing is not necessary for everyone.

Before considering testing, look at your personal and family history. Were you diagnosed with breast cancer before age 50? Have multiple members in your family had breast cancer? Have any of these cases been related to BRCA mutations? If so, consider speaking with a genetic counselor about testing.

Naturally, testing your genes doesn’t come cheap. Texas Oncology, an independent cancer treatment center, notes the procedure can set you back $4,000. However, if your personal and family history put you at risk for the gene mutations, some insurance companies will cover the cost. Confirm your insurance coverage before getting tested.

Whether or not you undergo genetic testing, the American Cancer Society recommends reporting any breast abnormalities or changes to your health care provider and getting regular mammograms.

A doctor’s response: Dr. Karen David, a medical geneticist in Brooklyn, provides more information for patients.

Have you experienced genetic testing for breast cancer? Tell us your experience in the comments below.

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