BRCA1 or BRCA2 Options

Genetic Test for Breast and Ovarian Cancer Risk

Genetic testing and genetic counseling are important parts of breast cancer care and prevention at Woman’s Hospital. We test for BRCA1 and BRCA2 to help you to weigh your risk of breast cancer. Our genetics team will guide you through the process of learning more about your risks and options. The BRCA gene test uses DNA analysis to identify harmful changes in either one of the two breast cancer susceptibility genes — BRCA1 and BRCA2. People who inherit mutations in these genes are at an increased risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer.

Several options are available for managing cancer risk in individuals who have a harmful BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation. However, high-quality data on the effectiveness of these options are limited.


Frequent cancer screenings is a way to detect disease early. Screening does not, however, change the risk of developing cancer. Our goal is to find cancer early when it may be most treatable.

Surveillance methods for breast cancer may include mammography and clinical breast exams. Studies are used to test the effectiveness of other breast cancer screening methods, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), in women with BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations. With careful surveillance, many breast cancers will be diagnosed early enough to be successfully treated.

Preventive Mastectomy

This type of surgery involves removing as much of the "at-risk" tissue as possible in order to reduce the chance of developing cancer. Bilateral prophylactic mastectomy (removal of healthy breasts) does not, however, offer a guarantee against developing cancer. Because not all at-risk tissue can be removed by these procedures, some women have developed breast cancer even after prophylactic surgery.

Behavioral Changes

Certain behaviors have been associated with breast and ovarian cancer risk in the general population, such as weight, physical activity and diet.

Women can decrease their risk of developing breast cancer through changes in lifestyles, such as:

  • Increasing physical activity
  • Losing weight
  • Quitting smoking
  • Reducing alcoholic drinks to a maximum of two per day

If you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer or have questions about your risk factors, talk to your doctor so they can assess your situation and help you plan a course of action.