What comes to mind when you hear the term breast cancer genes? I’m guessing Angelina Jolie and some amount of anxiety rank high.
That we can now get tested to determine whether we have mutated BRCA1 or BRCA2, which raise the risk for types of cancer, is awesome. It also presents difficult decisions for many people. Will you get tested? If you carry a mutated gene, will you have one or more surgeries? What then?
Last week I chatted with Tiffany Bailey, a gifted singer with a background in psychology who has faced these very decisions. Her story and message are invaluable for us all, IMO, and I loved what she had to say.
Listen to our chat on iTunes or below, then let us know what you think in the comments!
In the meantime, here are some facts about BRCA1 and BRCA2 worth considering:
We all have them.
BRCA1 and BRCA2 are genes that actually help protect the body from tumors by supporting normal cell function. All genders have them. Certain inherited mutations of the genes have the opposite effect, raising the risk for numerous forms of cancer.
The mutations are pretty rare, in the general population.
Rare enough that doctors only recommend getting tested if you have risk factors, which include:
- Family history of breast cancer diagnosed before age 50 years; cancer of both breasts; breast and ovarian cancer in the same person
- Two or more primary types of BRCA1- or BRCA2-related cancers in a single family member
- Cases of “male” breast cancer
- Known breast cancer gene prevalence in your family
- Cancers in your family in addition to breast, such as melanoma, pancreatic, prostate, stomach, uterine, thyroid, colon and/or sarcoma.
- Ashkenazi Jewish ethnicity
When they do mutate, the effects can be drastic.
About 12% of people with vulvas will develop breast cancer at some point, according to the National Cancer Institute.
If you inherit the mutated BRCA1 gene, this leaps up to 55 to 65% of the population, and 45% of those who carry mutated BRCA2. These genes also raise the prevalence of ovarian cancer, from 1.3% of the population to 39%.
People with penises who inherit the abnormal BRCA2 gene have about an 8% risk of developing breast cancer, which is about 80 times greater than the average. The mutated genes are also linked with prostate cancer.
Knowledge is power.
No matter what choices you make about your body and cancer-related risks, they are your own. They’re also best made informed.
“I spent a lot of time thinking that it wasn’t going to happen to me, or I didn’t have to worry about it,” Tiffany told me. “I found out about it, I freaked out about it. And now, look where I’m at. I’m making choices. I’m in control of what’s happening, and I feel better about it.”