Mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes can be inherited and passed from parent to child. The gene names of BRCA1 and BRCA2 stand for Breast Cancer gene 1 and Breast Cancer gene 2, as the presence of mutations in these genes significantly increase the risk of developing breast cancer, though mutations in these genes confer cancer risk to other organs, as well.
Below are some of the most common myths about BRCA.
Myth 1: Only Women Need to Worry About BRCA Mutations
This is perhaps the most common misconception about BRCA gene mutations. Both men and women can carry BRCA gene mutations and both men and women can pass mutations down to their children.
For this reason, it’s important to check your father’s family history as well as your mother’s family history when assessing your genetic risk for cancer.
Myth 2: BRCA Gene Mutations Only Cause Breast Cancer
Because they’re called Breast Cancer genes, people often assume BRCA gene mutations only cause breast cancer, and therefore only pose a health risk to women. This isn’t true. BRCA gene mutations increase the risk for a wide range of cancers, including ovarian cancer, male breast cancer, prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer, and melanoma.
Myth 3: Only People with Jewish Ancestry Carry BRCA Gene Mutations
People of Ashkenazi Jewish descent are ten times more likely to carry BRCA gene mutations than the general population, but anyone can carry mutations in the BRCA genes. Approximately 1 in 300-500 people in the general population carry BRCA gene mutations, whereas the risk is 1 in 40 for those of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry.
Myth 4: I Already Have Breast Cancer, So Testing for BRCA mutations is Unnecessary
If you’re living with or have survived breast cancer, you may wonder why you should bother being tested for BRCA mutations.
There are numerous reasons to be tested after a breast cancer diagnosis. First, if a BRCA mutation is identified, it can guide treatment decisions. Second, the identification of a BRCA gene mutation alerts family members to the possibility that they also may carry the mutation. Third, you are at risk for cancer in other parts of your body and steps can be taken to reduce your risk of getting cancer again.
Myth 5: My Insurance Won’t Cover Genetic Testing
It’s common for people to believe that their health insurance won’t cover genetic testing. Most insurance companies pay for both genetic counseling and testing if patients meet standard guidelines and the test has been ordered by a medical professional. However, it is always important to verify insurance coverage. For more information, read about the Myriad promise.
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