BRCA genes are found in males and females and generally help prevent cancer by stopping cells from accumulating mutations and growing abnormally. Women with mutated BRCA genes are at greater risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. For them, the estimated lifetime risk of developing breast cancer is 85%, compared with 12% for women without a mutation. Their estimated risk of ovarian cancer is 23% to 54%, compared with 1.5%.
Research has shown a link between the mutations and cancers of the fallopian tubes, pancreas and prostate, and melanoma and male breast cancer.
Genetic counseling and testing are recommended for those with a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer. Women with the mutations should be screened regularly through blood tests, mammograms, ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging. Many oncologists recommend that women with the mutations consider having their ovaries, fallopian tubes and breasts removed prophylactically to reduce risk.
Contact the National Society of Genetic Counselors at www.nsgc.org.
Source: American Cancer Society, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center