Breast and ovarian cancer typically aren't things you worry about in your 20s and 30s. However, as many as 415,000 U.S. women have a BRCA gene mutation, which increases risk for these cancers, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association. But, the newest BRCA gene test is more affordable than ever, making it easy and accessible for you to get tested at home. While having the BRCA1 or 2 gene mutation significantly raises your odds of developing breast and ovarian cancer, just knowing whether or not you have it dramatically increases your chances of preventing it.
A familial link to breast cancer has been suspected for hundreds of years, but it wasn't until 1990 that Dr. Mary-Claire King published a paper that identified gene mutations BRCA1 and BRCA2, which account for up to 50 percent of hereditary breast cancers and 5–10 percent of all breast cancers. The BRCA gene mutations can be inherited from either your mother or your father. And, in honor of Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month in September, and Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, Color has announced a BRCA1 and BRCA2 test for $99.
You may have heard of the BRCA gene mutations when actor and activist Angelina Jolie, who tested positive for BRCA1, wrote about her decision to undergo a preventative double mastectomy in the New York Times in 2013. Additionally, former Good Morning America staffer Paige More detailed her experience of documenting her double mastectomy at age 24 on Instagram to Bustle earlier this year. Both of these women have shared their stories to connect with other women, and to raise awareness about the importance of early detection.
Why You Need To Know About BRCA
More inherited the BRCA1 gene from her father, which means she had a 55 to 65 percent chance of developing breast cancer by age 70. While not everyone chooses the same preventative options as More and Jolie, knowing whether or not you have the gene is an important step in determining the best way to mitigate your risks and manage your health in a way that works best for you. Some people choose aggressive screening and surveillance. The point of having the information is that it puts you in charge of how to manage your health in a way that you're comfortable with.
"In the United States as a whole, the number of carriers of actionable mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 carriers is estimated to be between 1 in 300 and 1 in 500 women, or between 250 000 and 415 000 adult women for whom breast and ovarian cancer is both highly likely and potentially preventable," King, Ephrat Levy-Lahad, MD, and Amnon Lahad, MD, MPH, wrote for the Journal of the American Medical Association. "With modern genomics tools, all actionable mutations can be readily identified. Intensive monitoring and early invention protocols reduce risk in carriers. Sufficient knowledge is available to allow women to make informed decisions."
Personally, I know a lot of women who were diagnosed with breast cancer in their 30s, though the recommended age to begin getting regular mammograms is not until between ages 40 and 50. If you don't know your family history, and you do potentially have a BRCA gene mutation, you wouldn't know to begin getting screened sooner. More's maternal great aunt died of breast cancer when she was a baby, and her paternal grandmother died of ovarian cancer when she was 5. However, she decided to get tested when her sister found a lump in her breast.
While the lump was ultimately not cancerous, it was enough for her mother, who was not a carrier, to encourage her father to get tested for the BRCA1 and 2 gene mutation. Her father tested positive, and though her sister tested negative, More decided to take the test, too. She tested positive. Armed with this new information, More was able to make informed decisions about her path forward.
How To Get Tested For BRCA1 & 2 Gene Mutations
Color's BRCA test kit includes a saliva collection kit and prepaid return label, a BRCA1 and BRCA2 test report, expert genetic counseling, and the latest genetic research news. So, what if the test is positive? When you get your results you have the option to meet with a board-certified genetic counselor to discuss next steps. You'll also get a report that contains clear, actionable information on your specific genetic risk factors for both breast and ovarian cancer, and information you and your doctor can use to help you create a healthcare management plan. You can also read stories from others who have used the Color BRCA test.
If your results do come back positive, it can be really scary to receive the news. When More learned she had the BRCA 1 gene mutation, she told me that she felt totally alone because she didn't know anyone else who was sharing her experience. There was no one to turn to for advice, and no one she knew who understood her emotions. She started sharing her experience on Instagram and found there were other young women going through the same thing.
Since she began documenting her journey, More received (and continues to receive) hundreds of messages from other people facing the same challenges and decisions. While there was no platform for More to connect with others when she made her decision to reduce her risks for developing breast cancer, by undergoing a double mastectomy she unintentionally created one. Now these "breast friends" communicate online (More responds personally to every message and connects people with each other, too), and even meet in person at "breasty" events.
While learning that you have a BRCA gene mutation can be frightening, the knowledge can also potentially save your life. King, who was a 2016 recipient of NFCR's Albert Szent Gyorgyi Prize for Progress in Cancer Research, said that no woman with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation should die of breast or ovarian cancer. With this new, affordable BRCA1 and 2 at home test kit, Color is hoping to make that statement a reality.