Four Things Everyone Should Know About BRCA1, BRCA2 and Hereditary Breast Cancer

Family History
1 October 2020
by Cathie Ericson

Women often take on the role of caregivers, frequently managing things like overseeing the kids’ schedules, and keeping their family healthy. But sometimes shouldering these many roles may mean they overlook their own well-being.

Now is the ideal opportunity to take the time to focus on your health, specifically what you need to know about hereditary breast cancer and the genes BRCA1 and BRCA2—for your sake, as well as your family’s.

Read on for four “frequently asked questions” you might have.

What are BRCA1, BRCA2, and HBOC syndrome?

BRCA1 and BRCA2 are two genes that are involved in Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer (HBOC) syndrome.

Hereditary breast cancer is most commonly associated with HBOC syndrome. HBOC syndrome is linked to DNA differences in either BRCA1 or BRCA2.

People with HBOC syndrome have a higher risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer, along with other cancers, such as melanoma, prostate cancer, and pancreatic cancer. And they typically develop cancer at a younger age.

In the U.S., about 1 in 200 people have a DNA difference linked to HBOC syndrome. It is most common in people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, though it is also found in many other populations as well.

If I have HBOC syndrome what does it mean for my children?

If you have HBOC syndrome and your partner does not, then each child has a 50% chance of having HBOC syndrome. The chances are even higher if both parents have HBOC syndrome.

Both sons and daughters who inherit DNA differences in BRCA1 or BRCA2 linked to HBOC syndrome have a higher chance of developing cancer in their lifetime.

For example, women* with this condition can have an up to 53% chance of developing ovarian cancer by the age of 80. And they have up to a 79% chance of developing breast cancer by the same age.

Women* with HBOC syndrome have up to a 79% chance of developing breast cancer by 80.

Men* have a higher chance of developing prostate cancer and male breast cancer. Around 2,000 males in the U.S. develop male breast cancer each year.

Although the American Medical Association does not recommend genetic testing for HBOC syndrome for people under the age of 18, it’s important to maintain open conversations with your family and healthcare providers to discuss ways to minimize and manage risks.

How can I get tested for HBOC?

There are different types of tests where you provide a sample in your home using a sample collection tube and send it to a laboratory to detect DNA differences in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes linked to HBOC syndrome. One type of test is next-generation sequencing (NGS), which looks for differences in your DNA that are linked to higher risk of developing certain cancers.

While it cannot tell you if you currently have cancer, it can help give you a detailed understanding of your inherited health risks and show if there is something in your DNA that increases your chance of developing certain cancers.

The NGS technology used by AncestryHealth® checks thousands of places in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. This means it can detect around 80% of people in the U.S. with HBOC syndrome.

Another type of testing, called microarray testing, checks for many fewer DNA differences in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes that are commonly linked to HBOC syndrome. For example, 23andMe checks for three DNA differences, which results in only about a 20% detection rate in the general U.S. population.

If I have HBOC, what can I do to manage my risks?

First, you should always talk to your healthcare provider about your options and only make any decisions after thorough consideration of the potential risks and benefits. Your healthcare provider might have a range of suggestions. Here are a few that are recommended by the American Cancer Society.

• Start cancer screenings, like mammograms and breast MRIs, at an earlier age.

• Some healthcare providers may suggest taking a medication that may lower the risk in women who are at a higher-than-average risk for breast cancer.

• A healthcare may want to discuss with you various options including surgery. There are many factors to be considered in such a decision such as family history and future plans for

The American Cancer Society also suggests maintaining a healthy weight, staying active, and eating a healthy diet to lower cancer risk.

Remember that having HBOC syndrome doesn’t mean you have cancer, just that your chances of having it are higher.


Stay One Step Ahead of Your Genetic Risks

Knowledge is power. If you know you have HBOC syndrome, you can work with your doctor to catch any cancers early, when they are most treatable.

Want to find out if you may have DNA differences linked to an increased risk of certain cancers? Order AncestryHealth® today.

*Assigned sex at birth

Order AncestryHealth®

AncestryHealth® includes laboratory tests developed and performed by an independent CLIA-certified laboratory partner, and with oversight from an independent clinician network of board-certified physicians and genetic counselors. The test results are not diagnostic and do not determine your overall chance of developing a disease or health condition. The tests are not cleared or approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. You should consult a healthcare provider before taking any action based on AncestryHealth® reports, including before making any treatment, dietary, or lifestyle changes. AncestryHealth® is not currently available in New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Guam.