Breast Cancer (BRCA) Gene Testing: Care Instructions

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Your Care Instructions

BRCA1 and BRCA2 are genes that help control normal cell growth. Sometimes, people inherit changes in one of these genes. These changes are called mutations. If you inherit a BRCA (say "BRAH-kuh") mutation, you have a greater risk of breast or ovarian cancer.

You also have a higher risk of breast or ovarian cancer if you have a family history of them. Some people have a family history, but they don't have the BRCA mutation.

To find out if you have the BRCA mutation, you can have a blood test. People who have the mutation have a higher risk for these cancers. But not everyone with the mutation gets cancer.

Talk to your doctor about things that may increase your risk. Let your doctor know if you or a family member had or has:

  • A positive test for BRCA.
  • Breast cancer before age 50.
  • Ovarian cancer at any age.
  • Male breast cancer.
  • Breast cancer in both breasts.
  • Both breast and ovarian cancer.
  • Eastern European Jewish heritage.

Your doctor may also want you to talk with a genetic counsellor. The counsellor can help you understand what the results of this test might mean.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Why should you have BRCA testing?

You may feel better if the test shows that you don't have a BRCA mutation. This is called a negative result.

If the test shows that you do have a BRCA mutation, it's called a positive result. In this case, you may be able to make some decisions that could reduce your cancer risk. The information may also be helpful to your family and loved ones.

What are the risks of BRCA testing?

A negative test may give you a false sense of security. So you may not have the regular tests that help find cancer at an early stage. But a negative BRCA test does not mean that you will never have breast or ovarian cancer.

A positive test result may cause anxiety or depression. A positive BRCA test does not mean that you will definitely get breast or ovarian cancer.

It's important to think carefully about what the test results could mean for you. A genetic counsellor can help you do this.

What can you do to reduce the risk of breast cancer?

Your risk for breast cancer increases as you get older. There is no known way to prevent breast cancer. But with some cancers, finding them early can increase your changes of successful treatment.

Here are some steps you can take to help reduce your risk:

  • Get familiar with the look and feel of your breasts. This will help you notice any changes. Call your doctor or nurse call line if you notice a change.
  • Have regular breast examinations by your doctor or nurse. Ask your doctor how often you should get them.
  • Have regular mammograms. A mammogram is a picture of your breast tissue. It can find changes in your breast before you can feel them. Talk to your doctor about when to get this test.

You can also help take care of yourself and reduce your risk of cancer if you:

  • Stay at a healthy weight.
  • Eat a healthy, low-fat diet.
  • Get some exercise every day. If you don't usually exercise, walking is a good way to start.
  • Don't smoke. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation. Or don't drink alcohol at all.
  • Breastfeed. There is some evidence that breastfeeding may lower the risk of breast cancer. The benefit seems to be greatest in women who have breastfed for longer than 12 months or who breastfed several children.

Men and women who do a gene test and find out that they have a BRCA gene change have some options to manage their cancer risk.

  • Women who haven't had cancer may want to think about starting breast cancer screening at a younger age, taking medicine, and having preventive surgery.
  • If you have a BRCA gene change, talk with your doctor. He or she will help you manage your cancer risk.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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