BRCA Test Can Help Determine Risk for Breast, Ovarian Cancer

By Dr. Ellamarie Russo-DeMara, Gynecologist

Angelina Jolie’s courageous decision to undergo a double mastectomy to reduce her risk of developing hereditary breast cancer has brought to light an important test done regularly, and promoted, at Gifford.

The reason behind Jolie’s decision was a positive BRCA test. BRCA is a test for hereditary breast and ovarian cancers. It is as pain-free as a test gets; all you have to do is spit in a test tube.

In more scientific terms, the test is of your saliva or, buccal DNA, and is done right in the doctor’s office to check for an inherited mutation or alteration in the BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 gene.

While hereditary breast and ovarian cancer account for only 5 percent of these cancers, knowing your BRCA status can help you and your family make informed decisions and choices.

A woman with BRCA 1 or 2 mutations has a markedly elevated risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer, including:

  • Up to a 50 percent risk of developing breast cancer by age 50 (compared to 2 percent in the general population)
  • Up to an 87 percent risk of developing breast cancer by age 70 (compared to 8 percent in the general population)
  • Up to a 64 percent risk of developing a second breast cancer
  • Up to a 44 percent chance of developing ovarian cancer by age 70 (compared to less than 1 percent in the general population)

Knowing whether you have this mutation will enable you to have increased surveillance and/or treatment, which can potentially save your life and help your family members make informed decisions. Management strategies may include earlier breast cancer screening with mammography or MRI, risk reducing surgery such as ovary removal after childbearing is completed, and chemoprevention, such as tamoxifen or birth control pills.

Red flags for hereditary breast and ovarian cancers, include:

  • Breast cancer before age 50
  • Ovarian cancer at any age
  • Male breast cancer at any age
  • Ashkenazi Jewish heritage
  • Relatives of a BRCA carrier

If you or a loved one falls into one of these categories, contact your primary care or gynecologist’s office to inquire about testing.

Dr. Ellamarie Russo-DeMara is a gynecologist at Gifford’s Bethel Health Center and Twin River Health Center in White River Junction. She provides BRCA advice and testing. She is also a breast cancer survivor.

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