BRCA genes play an important role in maintaining the integrity of the DNA in each cell. If these genes are altered so they don’t function properly, a person’s cells are more likely to fail to correct damage to DNA which, in time, leads to cancer. Individuals with a BRCA 1 or 2 mutation have an increased risk of developing cancers of the breast, ovaries, and several other organs.
BRCA 1 and 2 mutations are responsible for about 5 to 10% of all breast cancers, and for approximately 50% of all hereditary breast cancers. In the general population, women have an approximately 12% chance of developing breast cancer by age 70. Those who have a BRCA 1 or 2 mutation have on average a 66% risk of developing breast cancer by the same age. Similarly, the risk of developing ovarian cancer by age 70 is, on average 31%, compared to the general population risk of <1%.
What many people do not know is that BRCA gene mutations also increase the risk of pancreatic cancer. Research shows that approximately 10% of pancreatic cancers are associated with breast and ovarian cancer syndromes caused by BRCA 1 and 2 mutations. Others have found the link between pancreatic cancer and BRCA2 mutations can be as high as 19%. Therefore, patients with pancreatic cancer should be tested for BRCA mutations more broadly than current guidelines suggest.
Certain populations are more likely to carry mutations of the BRCA genes. In particular, people with Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry have a significantly higher risk than the general population. BRCA gene mutations are also more common in Norwegian, Dutch, and Icelandic individuals. If your personal or family history suggests an increased risk of carrying a BRCA One or Two gene mutation, it’s recommended that you consult with your doctor and/or geneticist
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