Image Credits: Helix

As Breast Cancer Awareness Month comes to an end, we must look forward to the future for where breast cancer research is going. We also need to know what it may look like down the road for a breast cancer diagnosis. Much of the discussion about the future of breast cancer, including early diagnosis, centers around the BRCA gene. Let’s break it down. 

BRCA1 and BRCA2 are human genes that are involved in tumor suppression. A mutation in these genes, which is genetically inherited, can lead to increased risks for ovarian and breast cancer. BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations make up approximately a quarter of all hereditary breast cancer cases. Cases associated with these genetic mutations tend to occur in younger women.  

About 60% of women who inherit BRCA1 and 45% of women who inherit BRCA2 genes will develop breast cancer by the time they are 70 years old. This is why, with the onset of genetic testing for normal, everyday individuals, many women are discovering their risk of breast cancer earlier, taking preventative actions, and  monitoring the situation more closely. Once you’re aware of a potential issue, you’re much more prepared to fight it in the future.

If you do find that you have a BRCA mutation, doctors recommend a couple steps to mitigate your likelihood of cancer, including enhanced screenings, risk-reducing surgery including a prophylactic mastectomy, and chemoprevention.

Genetic testing to look for mutations in BRCA genes is now available. They are being used to help women anticipate the onset of certain cancers. These genetic tests usually take about a month to come back. They are recommended for people with a history of breast cancer or ovarian cancer in the family. An increased likelihood of a BRCA mutation in the family can manifest as breast cancer diagnosis in a woman before age 50, multiple breast cancers, cases of male breast cancer in the family, or both breast and ovarian cancer in the same woman or within the same family. Genetic testing is not recommended for children.

Mutations in BRCA genes are not just associated with breast and ovarian cancer, but also fallopian tube cancer and peritoneal cancer in women. The gene is associated with prostate cancer, and pancreatic cancer in men. As with many genetic issues, there is a higher prevalence of harmful BRCA mutations in people who are Ashkenazi Jewish, Norwegian, Dutch, or Icelandic. The prevalence in racial and ethnic groups in the United States is more wide-spread and is still being studied.  

BRCA genes and genetic testing made headlines in 2013 when Angelina Jolie wrote a New York Times opinion piece titled “My Medical Choice” detailing her decision to have a preventative double mastectomy after discovering that she has a mutation in her BRCA1 gene. Her mother died at the age of 56 from cancer. Doctors estimated that Jolie “had an 87% risk of breast cancer and a 50% risk of ovarian cancer” though she admits the “risk is different in the case of each woman.” She wrote in the piece, “It is my hope that they, too, will be able to get gene tested, and that if they have a high risk they, too, will know that they have strong options.”

If breast cancer or ovarian cancer runs in your family, take preventative measures now to not increase your risks. When the time is right, consider genetic testing if your doctor thinks that is best.

Future Female Leaders is donating 50% of our net proceeds from our ThinkPink line to Breast Cancer Research Foundation, where 91% of funding goes directly to breast cancer research and awareness. Please consider supporting our campaign by purchasing our ThinkPink products here

Aryssa D
FFL Cabinet Member