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A few years ago, celebrities began discussing how family battles with breast and/or ovarian cancer prompted them to be tested for the BRCA gene – elevating public awareness of genetic testing. Since then, there has been some discussion about how family history, age and ethnicity impact a woman’s risk of developing ovarian cancer, and whether women who have already been diagnosed should be BRCA tested.
The American Cancer Society estimates more than 21,000 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer this year. According to the National Cancer Institute, approximately 15 percent of women with ovarian cancer have a harmful BRCA mutation. In fact, medical guidelines recommend that all women who have been diagnosed with epithelial ovarian cancer, the most common form of ovarian cancer, should be considered for BRCA testing. Yet, many women who have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer do not undergo genetic testing due to common misperceptions. Here are the facts to some of the most common BRCA testing myths.
1. Myth: My BRCA status is not important because I have already been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Therefore, there is no reason for me to get BRCA tested.
Fact: BRCA status in ovarian cancer can affect treatment outcomes. There are targeted treatment and clinical trial options available specifically for women with mutated BRCA genes. If you have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, talk to your doctor about how this might impact your treatment options.
2. Myth: If my BRCA testing results are negative, there is no need for follow-up genetic testing.
Fact: According to the National Cancer Institute, scientists have not yet identified and/or discovered all potentially harmful BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations. Therefore, it is possible for a patient who has tested negative for a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation to test positive as scientific research advances. Consult with your doctor or genetic counselor about when you should do a follow-up BRCA test.
3. Myth: Only women who have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer will test BRCA-positive.
Fact: This is not true. In fact, nearly half of BRCA-positive ovarian cancer patients have no significant family history of ovarian or breast cancer. This is why national guidelines recommend that all patients with the most common form of ovarian cancer be considered for BRCA testing, regardless of family history, age, or ethnicity. If you have ovarian cancer, talk to your doctor about BRCA testing regardless of your family history.
4. Myth: BRCA mutations can only be inherited through the mother’s side.
Fact: BRCA mutations can be inherited from both the mother and the father. According to the National Cancer Institute, each child of a parent who carries a mutation has a 50 percent chance of inheriting the mutation. If you have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, talk to your doctor about whether you should be BRCA tested.
5. Myth: BRCA testing is not necessary for older patients because most women are diagnosed at a young age.
Fact: According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, 71 percent of BRCA-positive ovarian cancer patients are aged 50 or older.
6. Myth: Only women of certain ethnicities should get BRCA tested, as they are at greater risk of developing ovarian cancer.
Fact: National guidelines recommend that all patients with epithelial ovarian cancer be considered for BRCA testing, regardless of ethnicity.
7. Myth: The BRCA test is expensive.
Fact: BRCA testing for women diagnosed with ovarian cancer is very widely covered by insurance plans. There is also assistance available for low-income patients who are underinsured or uninsured, so most women incur no out-of-pocket costs.
If you have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, ask your health care provider about BRCA testing. If you have been BRCA tested or would like to learn more about it, join the conversation on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest using the hashtag #beBRCAware.
National Cancer Institute, BRCA1 and BRCA2: Cancer Risk and Genetic Testing, Retrieved August 7, 2015. http://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/genetics/brca-fact-sheet#q1
Pal, T., Permuth-Wey et al, (2005), BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations account for a large proportion of ovarian carcinoma cases. Cancer, 104: 2807–2816. doi: 10.1002/cncr.21536. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/cncr.21536/full
Michelle A. Roett MD, MPH, and Patricia Evans, MD. Ovarian Cancer: An Overview. Am Fam Physician. 2009 Sep 15;80(6):609-616. http://www.aafp.org/afp/2009/0915/p609.html#afp20090915p609-t1
Science World Report, BRCA Expert Dr. Karen Lu Discusses Prevention of Medical Misconceptions and What’s in the Works: Exclusive Interview, Retrieved August 17, 2015. http://www.scienceworldreport.com/articles/24942/20150429/brca-expert-dr-karen-ludiscusses-prevention-medical-misconceptions-and-whats-in-the-works-exclusiveinterview.htm
Breast Cancer Gene Myths, City of Hope, Retrieved August 17, 2015. http://breakthroughs.cityofhope.org/breast-cancer-gene-myths
Ovarian Cancer. American Cancer Society. Retrieved August 19, 2015. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/ovariancancer/
Reviewed August 19, 2015
by Michele Blacksberg RN