Why I tested for a BRCA gene mutation

My grandmother was just four years old when she lost her thirty-five year old mother to Breast Cancer.  Nobody spoke about cancer back then or took the time to prepare a child for the inevitable loss of a parent.  She was kept away from her mother’s bedroom and never given the chance to say goodbye.  At the age of twenty-four, and herself a mother of two, my grandmother was somehow not surprised to learn she had Ovarian Cancer.  Against all odds, she survived this disease but it was not the last time that cancer forced its way into her life.  In fact, she was later diagnosed with Colon Cancer at sixty-five and Breast Cancer at ages sixty-eight and eighty.  Ovarian Cancer would come to take the lives of both of her sisters, too.  But the BRCA gene mutation doesn’t only affect women…cancer also took the life of her brother.    

 What does this medical “family tree” mean in relation to my own risk? According to the first doctor I asked, it wasn’t relevant at all because the cancer is on my father’s side.  It wasn’t until a decade later that I learned the BRCA genes can be passed down by one’s mother OR father.  This new information led me to a Genetic Counselor who took a detailed family history and provided counseling which helped me decide to pursue genetic testing.  I wanted to know if I carried a BRCA mutation that would drastically increase my risk of developing Breast and Ovarian Cancer.  I also knew I would take any steps necessary to reduce that risk.  After two weeks of waiting, my results came back positive for the BRCA1 mutation.  I was frightened but mostly thankful that I was able to learn about my risk before being diagnosed with cancer.  I felt empowered to make health care decisions to manage and reduce the likelihood of a future diagnosis.

While my story may sound like a familiar one among families affected by a BRCA mutation, it’s by no means the only one.  Here are some possible indicators that a BRCA gene mutation may be present in a family:

-Breast Cancer at younger than age 50
-Ovarian Cancer at any age
-Cancer in both breasts
-Male Breast Cancer
-2 or more family members with: Breast, Ovarian, Prostate or Pancreatic Cancer

If you have questions about Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer, go to the FORCE website at Facingourrisk.org or schedule an appt with a Genetic Counselor.

Amy Yoffe, LCSW is an Outreach Coordinator for FORCE, the only national organization dedicated to improving the lives of those affected by Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer.  (Amy@Facingourrisk.org)  

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.


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