A little knowledge can go a long way in helping you understand your risk for breast and ovarian cancers. Once you learn your risk for these cancers, we hope you will talk to you doctor and develop a strategy to reduce your risk or detect these diseases at early, non-life-threatening stages.
Cancer is a disease in which cells in the body grow out of control. When cancer starts in the breast, it is called breast cancer. About 7 out of 100 women (or 7%) will be diagnosed with breast cancer by the time they turn 70 years old.
Ovarian cancer is far less common. About 1 out of 100 women (or 1%) will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer by age 70. Though it is less common than breast cancer, ovarian cancer causes more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system.
About 5–10% of breast and 10-15% of ovarian cancers are hereditary. These hereditary breast and ovarian cancers are caused by inherited changes in genes such as BRCA1 and BRCA2.
While breast and ovarian cancers are most common in older women (about 89% of breast cancers occur in women older than 45 years of age), they can and do occur in younger women. There are some important differences when these cancers do affect young women:
Every woman can benefit from learning the risk factors and symptoms of breast and ovarian cancers.
If you have one or more of these factors, it does not mean you will get breast cancer. Talk to your doctor about ways to reduce your risk.
Pay attention to your body and know what is normal for you. If you have any signs that worry you, be sure to see your doctor right away.
If you have one or more of these factors, it does not mean you will get ovarian cancer. Talk to your doctor about ways to reduce your risk.
If you have:
Pay attention to your body and know what is normal for you. See a doctor if you have any of these signs for two weeks or longer and they are not normal for you.
The next time you visit the doctor, consider talking about what you have learned about breast and ovarian cancers.
Be sure to tell your doctor about your family history of cancer (especially breast, ovarian, fallopian tube, pancreatic, and prostate cancers) and about any other risk factors you may have.
If you need help collecting and organizing your family health history, use the U.S. Surgeon General's family health history portrait, https://familyhistory.hhs.gov/.
Together, you and your doctor can develop a personalized strategy to reduce your risk.
Genes are the parts of the body that pass hereditary traits down through families. They contain information to build and maintain cells in the body. Genes are made up of a material called DNA. DNA determines certain characteristics (genetic traits) that are passed from parents to children, such as blood type, hair color, eye color, and risks of developing certain diseases.
The names BRCA1 and BRCA2 stand for BReast CAncer susceptibility gene 1 and BReast CAncer susceptibility gene 2. BRCA1 and BRCA2 belong to a class of genes known as tumor suppressors. When functioning normally, these genes help keep breast, ovarian, and other types of cells from growing and dividing too rapidly or in an uncontrolled way.
When certain changes or "mutations" in the BRCA genes occur, cells are more likely to divide and change rapidly which can lead to developing cancer.
If either your mother or your father has the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation, you have a 50% chance of having the gene mutation.
About 1 in every 500 women in the United States has either the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation.
Yes. Ashkenazi Jewish women are ten times more likely to have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation than the general population.
Other racial, ethnic, and geographic populations around the world, such as the Norwegian, Dutch, and Icelandic peoples, also have higher numbers of BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations.
No. Your risk for having a BRCA gene mutation is not the same as your risk for developing cancer.
Not every woman who has a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation will get breast or ovarian cancer, but having the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation puts you at an increased risk for breast and ovarian cancers.
|Breast Cancer||Ovarian Cancer|
7 out of 100 U.S. women will develop breast cancer by age 70
Less than 1 out of 100 women will develop ovarian cancer by age 70
|Women with BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations||
About 50 out of 100 women with BRCA mutations will develop breast cancer by age 70. Many of these cases of breast cancer will develop before the women turn 50 years old.
About 30 out of 100 of these women will develop ovarian cancer by age 70.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( http://www.cdc.gov/features/hereditarycancer)
It is very important to find out early if you have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation, because early detection and early treatment can save lives. If you find out you have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation, you and your doctor can discuss options to reduce your risk of developing cancer.
If you are not at an increased risk for a BRCA gene mutation, this does not mean that you have no risk for cancer. Only about 5-10% of breast and 10-15% of ovarian cancers diagnosed in the U.S. are associated with BRCA mutations. Other breast and ovarian cancers are due primarily to age.
The only way to know if you have inherited a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation is to get genetic testing. You should meet with a trained genetic expert (e.g., genetic counselor, advanced practice nurse in genetics) and receive genetic counseling prior to genetic testing.
Genetic counseling and testing is not for everyone. The tests are recommended for women whose family medical history has certain patterns of cancer. The Know:BRCA Assessment helps you determine if you are at an increased risk of a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation and might benefit from genetic counseling and further evaluation.
The list below describes the family history patterns that the Know:BRCA Assessment uses to determine if you fall into the 2% of women who are at an increased risk of a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation. Women who have none of these family history patterns have a low chance of having a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation.
Women who ARE NOT of Ashkenazi Jewish descent - If any of following apply, you are at an increased risk of having a BRCA mutation.
Do you have:
Women who ARE of Ashkenazi Jewish descent - If any of following apply to your family, you are at an increased risk of a BRCA mutation.
Do you have:
No. Mutations in several other genes have been associated with breast and/or ovarian cancers. However, the majority of hereditary breast cancers (those with a genetic link) are caused by mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2.
Research studies are being conducted to:
Information about active clinical trials for individuals with BRCA mutations is available on the National Cancer Institute (NCI) website. The following links will help you search NCI's clinical trials database and retrieve lists of open trials.
In addition, NCI's Cancer Information Service (CIS) provides information about clinical trials and helps with clinical trial searches. Contact NCI's Cancer Information Service (CIS) by phone at 1-800-4-CANCER or the LiveHelp link on NCI's Cancer.gov Web site.
Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered (FORCE) has developed a clinical trial and research database designed specifically for people with a high risk of developing hereditary cancers. Click here to search for prevention, treatment, detection, risk, quality-of-life, and registry/observational studies: http://www.facingourrisk.org/information_research/search_hboc_studies.php.