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If you've found out that you have a BRCA gene change, you may be feeling pretty overwhelmed. But when it comes to cancer, knowledge is power. Now that you know you are BRCA-positive, you can take steps to reduce your risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
Experts know that women who are BRCA-positive are more likely than average women to get breast cancer and ovarian cancer. This table shows the predicted number of women in each group who will get cancer by age 70.
Number who will get breast cancer
Number who will get ovarian cancer
About 12 out of 100
About 1 out of 100
Women with BRCA1 changes by age 70
About 57 to 60 out of 100
About 40 to 59 out of 100
Women with BRCA2 changes by age 70
About 49 to 55 out of 100
About 17 to 18 out of 100
It's clear that having a BRCA change makes a big difference. But it's important to realize that:
But no one can predict who will or won't get cancer or when. That's why experts suggest that all women with BRCA changes take steps to prevent cancer.
To help women with BRCA changes, some experts did a study that let them predict how much breast and ovarian cancer risk could be reduced by:
The study also looked at having the surgeries at different ages. So for example, you can see what difference it might make if you keep your breasts and ovaries until after you are done having children. These results are one piece of information you can use as you explore how to lower your cancer risk.
Surgery and screening tests are not your only choices. You can also talk to your doctor about preventive medicines such as tamoxifen. And some women choose to have no treatment or extra screening.
According to the study, here's how the different prevention methods affect the life spans of women with BRCA1 changes.
Women who live to age 70 after this method
No treatment or extra screening
53 out of 100
Annual breast screening
59 out of 100
Ovaries removed at age 50
61 out of 100
Breasts removed at age 40
64 out of 100
Breasts removed at age 25
66 out of 100
Ovaries removed at age 40
68 out of 100
Annual screening + ovaries removed at age 40
76 out of 100
Annual screening + breasts and ovaries removed at age 40
77 out of 100
Breasts removed at age 25 + ovaries removed at age 40
79 out of 100
According to the study, here's how the different prevention methods affect the life spans of women with BRCA2 changes.
71 out of 100
75 out of 100
Annual screening + breasts removed at age 40
78 out of 100
81 out of 100
82 out of 100
83 out of 100
Take some time to think about your options. A genetic counselor can help you understand how the prevention options affect your cancer risk. Discuss them with your family and close friends. Then you can reach a decision that feels right for you.
Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.
National Comprehensive Cancer Network (2015). Genetic/familial high-risk assessment: Breast and ovarian. NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology, version 1.2015. http://www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/pdf/genetics_screening.pdf. Accessed June 2, 2015.
Kurian AW, et al. (2010). Survival analysis of cancer risk reduction strategies for BRCA1/2 mutation carriers. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 28(2): 222-231. Also available online: http://jco.ascopubs.org/content/28/2/222.full.
Other Works Consulted
Domchek SM, et al. (2010). Association of risk-reducing surgery in BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation carriers with cancer risk and mortality. JAMA, 304(9): 967-975. Also available online: http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=186510.
National Cancer Institute (2011). Genetics of Breast and Ovarian Cancer (PDQ)-Health Professional Version. Available online: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/genetics/breast-and-ovarian/healthprofessional.
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerSarah A. Marshall, MD - Family MedicineE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal MedicineKathleen Romito, MD - Family MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerWendy Y. Chen, MD, MPH - Medical Oncology, Hematology
Current as ofMarch 28, 2018
Current as of:
March 28, 2018
Sarah A. Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
& E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Wendy Y. Chen, MD, MPH - Medical Oncology, Hematology
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