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What is BRCA Testing?

Awareness

Have any of you seen the TV ads for the BRCA testing?  I had read about it in a women’s magazine some time ago but just recently saw a commercial.   I was really surprised that the testing company, Myiad, has been running the campaign for two years now considering it was the first one I’d ever seen.  The commercial uses the accronym slogan, Be Ready Against Cancer, to stimulate the public’s awareness and curiosity about the test.  According to the American Cancer Society, “this year nearly 180,000 women will learn they have breast cancer and more than 22,000 women will find out they have ovarian cancer. Of these women, up to 10 percent will have a hereditary risk, predisposing them to these diseases.”

The Purpose

The fact that they are running an ad campaign doesn’t necessarily mean that every woman should run out and get the BRCA test done nor do they need it.  The BRCA is a blood test that checks for changes in the genes that control normal cell growth.  These cell mutations known as BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 (a class of genes known as tumor suppressors), if found, can give insight into a woman’s chances of developing breast or ovarian cancer.

The BRCA is not a test to determine whether you have BC or OC.  And, if you test positive, it doesn’t mean that you will develop cancer.  On the other hand, if you test negative, it doesn’t mean that you won’t. Though the company has been marketing the test for over ten years, it’s still under scrutiny, and will likely undergo many changes and improvements in the coming  years; nevertheless, at least millions of women are being made aware of the pre-screening options in this area, and it gets them thinking about women’s health issues.  No harm done there, but do you really need it?

Some woman have chosen to give testimony about the BRCA saying it gave them the knowledge of their higher-than-normal risk and enabled them to start making some changes in their health and checking into medical options – not a bad thing for those who may be leading damaging lifestyles and need to start making better health choices.

Who Are They Recommending Get the BRCA?

Normally, The BRCA test is only done when the patients have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer or if they have already been diagnosed with one type. In most cases this means if you have two first-degree relatives (parent, sibling, child) who have either of the cancers and three or more second-degree relatives with one or both of the diseases.

The test is also recommended by some experts for women Ashkenazi Jews (Jews whose ancestors came from Eastern Europe).  They are considered high risk  and should get tested if a parent, sibling, or child have either of the two types of cancers; testing is also recommended if two of any secondary relatives (grandparent, aunt,uncle, niece, nephew) are affected by the cancers.

The Cost

The cost of a BRCA test can range anywhere from $300-$3,000 depending on whether you want the basic screening or the extensive one.  And if your insurance company doesn’t cover  it, you may have no choice but to go with the cheaper version or not get it at all.  Is it worth it?  I certainly can’t answer that for you.  Only you and your health care provider can decide whether you really need the BRCA test and if the results will give you the peace of mind you may be looking for.

Other Considerations

Regardless of what this test may or may not tell you about your BC and OC risk, all women over 40 should get an annual mammogram; every woman (18 and up) should do monthly breast self-examinations and get an annual pap smear– even those of you who don’t like doctors and hate the thought of spreading eagle in the stirrups or sticking your boobs in a big clampy thing.  Just do it.  If you don’t have medical insurance, these routine exams can be done at county health clinics and at Planned Parenthood inexpensively.  No excuses.

If you have had the BRCA test done or are a BC or OC survivor and would like to share your experience, please leave a comment or contact Kellie Stone.  Be well-be beautiful.

Resources: breastcancer.org, webmd.com, cancer.gov, genomeweb.com

Photo by Primaleve

About Kellie R. Stone

"I make no excuses for my diverse roles as a Rock Your Feminine Type Coach™ and Branding Expert, best-selling author, and crime thriller novelist. Yes, I do still chuckle a bit at the irony. I kick ass as a women’s biz coach by day and kill off vulnerable fiction characters at night. What the hell, it makes for some interesting dreams. I believe that everyone should pursue their passions no matter how out there they seem to be. One of those pure heart-fluttering passions for me has always been writing. Since I did, indeed, chase my dream of being a writer, I've published two non-fiction books in the self-development genre, co-authored an international best seller, and now I'm finally pushing my much-too-old-to-be-in-the-nest novel out the door and into the world. My whole world is empowering and I adore showing others how to live life unfiltered, whether I do that through the written word or my coaching work. I love my job!" ~Kellie R. Stone

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4 comments

  1. I tested positive on BRCA1. The problem is that the test was done with wrong information. I thought my grandmother died of breast cancer it was wrong she had lymphoma. My sister never had ovarian cancer, it was endometrosys. I am the only one in the family that had breast cancer almost 6 years ago. Do you think the results based on the wrong information I provided is accurate?

    Please I need to know before I remove my ovaries.

    • Hi Sonia,

      Thanks for sharing your comment with us. I am not a doctor but think you should explain the misinformation with your physician before you do anything drastic. Because of your cancer history, you should be well informed and make sure that the tests you take are accurate. I believe that the BRCA tests are helpful in some situations but are not 100% accurate nor should they be your whole basis for removing organs. I know you must be confused and a little scared; try to calm yourself with meditation or something that soothes you. Spend some time feeling into your intuition. If visualizing getting the surgery makes you feel safe and at peace, it might be the right thing to do. On the other hand, if it has you in knots and fretting, you should consider other options. This process is just one intuitive exercise I teach my clients. It really helps with making better decisions that are influenced by your highest self and Divine source/God. I hope this helps. If you need further support or just need to talk, you can email me at womenslifelink@gmail.com.

      Be well,
      Kellie

  2. Hi Steph,

    Thanks for your insightful comment. The prenatal test was just a comparison that came to mind when I thought about it. Maybe it was unfair. Because of my misunderstanding, I encourage you to visit Steph’s site to learn more about the BRCA test.
    And to clarify my statement about the “pap smear”, it does not detect ovarian cancer. It will detect anomolies in the cervical tissue possibly indicating the presence of cervical cancer. My mistake.

    Kellie

  3. Dear Kelly,

    Thank you for writing about BRCA testing, but I am slightly uncomfortable with the comparison you made to prenatal screening. You say, in regards to prenatal screening and your choice not to partake in it, “It was what it was, and if nothing could be done to change it, what was the purpose of knowing ahead of time.” But the purpose of knowing ahead of time is exactly the reason women with signiificant family histories of breast and ovarian cancer should consider taking the test. Knowledge is power, and knowing your BRCA status allows you to make decisions to protect your health. I’m a BRCA2+ mutation carrier, and, as the gene was passed to me from my grandfather and father, I would have had no understanding of how high my risk for developing breast cancer (up to an 85% lifetime risk) was if I hadn’t taken the test. Now because I know my status, I can take proactive measures to ensure my future. I’m blogging about my experiences at goodbyetoboobs.blogspot.com . Please stop by so that you can get a better sense of how important this test — and the knoweldge it brought me — has been to my life.

    Best,
    Steph H

    PS: Pap smears do not detect ovarian cancer. Please consider clarifying your statement.

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