Can Genes Predict Risk

Genetic testing has been in the news a lot lately in connection with determining risk of breast cancer. Maybe you’ve even heard the terms BRCA1 and BRCA2. What do those mean, and what do they have to do with breast cancer?

BRCA1 and BRCA2 (sometimes pronounced “breka” or “braka” before the 1 or 2) are human genes found in both women and men. The names stand for Breast Cancer Susceptibility Gene 1 and Breast Cancer Susceptibility Gene 2.

If we want to get really specific, the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are also known as “tumor suppressors.” This means that, when functioning as they should, they help to stabilize cells and prevent any unhealthy cellular growth, such as cancers.

Some individuals have abnormal BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. When this happens the condition is called a genetic mutation. That word can often have a negative connotation, but it’s merely a scientific term. In fact, not all mutations are bad, and some BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations, as with other mutations, could even have positive end result for a person.

However, when an woman inherits a harmful mutation of either of the breast cancer susceptibility genes, she has a much higher risk of developing breast cancer and/or ovarian cancer, or potentially even other kinds of cancer, such as cervical, uterine, pancreatic or colon cancer.

As information about the connection between BRCA1 and BRCA2 and a person’s risk of developing cancer reaches more and more people, the discussion about the benefits of genetic testing has grown.

According to the National Cancer Institute, there are now several methods for testing for BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations. If you are tested, these will involve analyzing a sample of your blood, for example, to study the proteins your genes are producing, over the course of several weeks.

After the results of your tests have been finalized, you would then meet with a health care professional who can interpret the findings for you. Ultimately, your risk assessment will consider not only the results of the testing, but also your medical history and the medical history of your family.

Since there are so many factors to take into consideration from individual to individual, it’s important to understand that the results of the genetic testing will not necessarily be cut and dry, but can give a person some idea of her risk of developing certain types of cancer.

Currently, this kind of testing can be quite expensive, and it may or may not be covered by your health insurance. Ask your doctor for more information on cancer risks and genetic testing.

Image via Håkan Dahlström on Flickr