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.

Free women’s health talk addresses menopause, genetic testing for breast and ovarian cancers

Ellamarie Russo-DeMara

Dr. Ellamarie Russo-DeMara

RANDOLPH – Gynecologist and certified menopause practitioner Dr. Ellamarie Russo-DeMara is leading a free women’s health talk on April 10 from 6-7 p.m. in the Porter Community Room at the Montshire Museum of Science in Norwich.

Dr. Russo-DeMara, who provides women’s health care in White River Junction at the Twin River Health Center and at the Bethel Health Center, will address menopause, genetic testing for hereditary breast and ovarian cancers and more.

The talk is free. Participants, however, are encouraged to register by calling the Twin River Health Center at 296-7370 by April 3.

The Twin River and Bethel health centers are part of Gifford Medical Center in Randolph. Dr. Russo-DeMara has been providing women’s care for more than two decades. Learn more online at www.giffordmed.org.