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Breast Cancer (BRCA) Gene Testing: Care Instructions

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.

BRCA gene changes aren't common. They may be more likely if you have family members who had breast or ovarian cancer, if you were diagnosed with breast cancer before age 50, or if you have an Ashkenazi Jewish heritage.

If you are concerned that you may have a BRCA gene change, talk with your doctor. You can have genetic testing to find out if you have the BRCA mutation.

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 is the test done?

A BRCA blood test is done to learn if you have BRCA gene changes. You may feel better if the test shows that you don't have a BRCA mutation. If the test shows that you do have a BRCA mutation, you may be able to make some decisions that could reduce your cancer risk.

What happens after a breast cancer gene (BRCA) test?

The results of a BRCA gene test can help you find out how high your cancer risk is. If it is high, you might decide to take steps to lower your risk. There are several things you might do, such as:

  • Have checkups and tests more often.
  • Have surgery to remove your breasts.
  • Have surgery to remove your ovaries.
  • Take medicines that may help prevent breast cancer.

What are the risks of the test?

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.

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 chances 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.
  • If you drink alcohol, limit it to less than 1 drink a day if you are a woman and less than 2 drinks a day if you are a man. Any amount of alcohol may increase your risk for some types of cancer.
  • 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.

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?

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.