If you’re a woman, you’ve probably heard all about the BRCA gene or at least heard enough to make you feel more than a little anxious. Together, let’s figure out what it is and what it isn’t.
BRCA; it stands for BReast CAncer susceptibility gene. There are two BRCA genes; BRCA 1 and BRCA 2. Every woman has the BRCA genes but not every woman has mutations in these genes. It’s the mutation that makes you more susceptible to breast cancer AND ovarian cancer than those women who do not have the mutations. Even still, having the BRCA mutations doesn’t mean that you certainly will get breast or ovarian cancer. Inherited mutations only play a role in breast or ovarian cancer 5% of the time. There are so many other factors that contribute to the growth of cancer. (
Here’s how it works. The BRCA gene has a job to suppress breast cancer. If you were born with a mutation in one of the genes, it means that your risks may increase, not that you will surely get cancer because you still have one good gene that compensates, and in a sense, puts the brakes on cancer growth. There are environmental factors that can affect these genes. If, for example, carcinogens damage the second gene, then your risks will increase again. Having the gene mutations alone does not cause cancer. Remember that!
These facts are important to understand before you choose testing. Many women do the BRCA testing and panic when they see a positive result. This can lead some, to unnecessary surgeries and psychological distress. Test results like this will change your world but do you know what else will change your world…Focusing on what you can do!
There are far more environmental factors and the way we care for our own bodies that have a more lasting, negative effect on our cancer health than gene mutations do. Don’t lose focus of that. Be proactive in your health whether you have the gene mutations or not. Start with getting your nutrition to a healthier state. Find better ways to manage your stress and make sure you are getting a decent amount of sleep. Getting healthy and nourished will have lasting health benefits.
So, how do you move forward?
1. Understand about the BRCA gene
2. Know your risks and share your family history with your healthcare provider.
3. Test your genes if there is a strong cancer line in your family, and after you have discussed this with your doctor.
4. Seek genetic counseling if needed.
Above all else, don’t panic if you do happen to have the mutation. Education, prudent screenings and healthy living will help ensure you live a long happy and healthy life.