If you have a family history of breast cancer and want to know if you’re at risk of getting it, too, a genetic test might provide the answers. A simple BRCA blood test can determine if there are changes in your genes, known as BRCA1 and BRCA2, which show you are at a higher risk of getting breast cancer. But what happens if your test results come back positive?
A Positive Test Does Not Mean You Have Cancer: First, understand that a positive BRCA test result does not mean you already have breast cancer. Not everyone who is “BRCA positive” will get breast cancer down the road. There are many other factors that determine your ultimate breast cancer risk, including alcohol consumption, body weight, breast density, physical activity levels, age, and reproductive history, and this test result is just one. It is normal to worry about any positive test result, so the best thing to do is to inform yourself about what a positive BRCA test result means and what the next steps are if you test positive.
A Positive Test Indicates You May Be at Risk: Statistics show a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation diagnosis means you have a 45 to 65 percent chance of getting with breast cancer by the time you turn 70. Remember, this doesn’t mean you will get cancer. It means you have a higher chance than someone else.
A Positive Test May Alter Your Treatment: If you already have breast cancer, knowing you have a BRCA mutation may change your course of treatment as many breast cancers in women that are BRCA positive result in more aggressive tumors. Armed with this information, you should talk to your doctor about your current cancer treatment plan and determine what, if any, changes, should be made.
You May Need Further Screening: If you have not been diagnosed, a BRCA positive test result should prompt you to create a screening plan with your doctor. You will probably have more breast screenings including mammograms, ultrasounds, and MRIs, starting at a younger age.
Better Overall Health Improves Your Odds: Whether your test was positive or negative, taking steps to improve your health will reduce your risk of cancer. Eating right, not smoking, and avoiding the sun and other things that cause cancer help to improve your odds.
You May Opt for Preventative Surgery: Depending on the genetic test results, your own health history and your current health, some women who are BRCA positive have undergone a preventative double mastectomy, which is the surgical removal of both breasts. It’s important to note that this reduces, but does not eliminate, your risk of developing breast cancer.
You Need to Alert Your Family: Getting a positive BRCA test result naturally leads to concern about the breast cancer risk for children and other family members. Notify them of your positive results and talk to the genetic counselor about getting other family members tested.