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All U need to know about the BRCA TEST

Dr. Sai Lakshmi Dayana

Sub-specialty in Gynae Oncology (RCOG, UK)
Consultant, Surgical Gynae Oncology

5 min read

Have U ever heard of the BRCA gene test? This is a blood test that identifies mutations in either one of the two breast cancer vulnerable genes–BRCA 1 and BRCA 2–via DNA analysis. Through this test, U can find out whether U R at an increased risk of developing breast cancer or ovarian cancer.

Wondering if U should get this done? According to a report on The Week , one woman dies every 13 minutes due to breast cancer in India. Also, the incidence of ovarian cancer is estimated to increase by 55% by 2035!

BRCA Test - URLife Wellness Platform

As ‘prevention is better than cure,’ it is advisable to go through trusted routines like BRCA test to manage UR risk. This test usually declares a simple ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ result after analyzing UR gene mutation results. Alongside the test, genetic counselling from a health professional can give U the true overall picture.

The BRCA test is gaining popularity owing to rising cases of cancer in women. Cancer is the second leading cause of death and is responsible for 10 million mortalities in a year. Unfortunately, we have not found a definitive cure for cancer. The only way to contain this deadly illness is through early diagnosis and treatments such as surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and immunotherapy.

What is Cancer?

Cancer occurs when old or damaged cells continue to exist in our body even after their lifespan or when new cells are formed without them being needed by the body. Our bodies are made up of millions of cells, they grow and divide to form new cells as per our body’s requirements. When an individual is affected with cancer, the cells begin to divide rapidly and spread into neighboring tissues.

Being a woman is enough of a risk factor to get these two cancers as research shows 1 in 7 women may have cancer. Women who have not given birth to children or breastfed their children are at a slightly higher risk.

Test for Ovarian Cancer - URLife Wellness Platform

Breast and Ovarian Cancer

According to the Centre of Disease Control and Prevention, about 41,000 people die of breast cancer in a year, a majority of which are caused by metastatic breast cancer. Breast cancer doesn’t show any symptoms in the early stages. It is usually identified through lumps on the breasts or armpits, known as tumors. It would be unlikely for them to be visible in the early stages of the illness. Some of the symptoms of breast cancer include:

  • A breast lump
  • Pain in the breast
  • Red and scarred skin
  • Nipple discharge (sometimes blood)
  • Peeling or scaling skin on the nipple and the breast
  • Inverted nipple

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If you notice a lump on your breast that has lasted over one menstrual cycle or is becoming bigger with time, you must see a doctor immediately.

Ovarian cancer ranks fifth in cancer deaths amongst women. It occurs in the ovaries (women’s reproductive organs), which are located on either side of the uterus. It remains undetected until it has spread within the pelvis and the abdomen. Some of the symptoms include:

  • Abdominal bloating or swelling
  • Abnormal weight loss
  • Pain in the pelvic region
  • Constipation
  • Need to urinate frequently
  • Feeling full (while eating) quickly

Knowing more about the BRCA test

  • Why do people get the BRCA test done?
  • Women get BRCA test recommended by their oncologist or gynecologist.

    Occasionally, daughters or sisters of breast / ovarian cancer patients get the BRCA gene test upon their doctor’s recommendations.

    In the Western world, men and women who have a very strong family history of certain cancers opt for the test, even before anyone in the family gets the cancer diagnosis.

  • At What Stage it is Important to Get BCRA Test Done?
  • It is important to get this test done when someone is undergoing treatment for cancer of the breast or ovary, with or without a strong family history of cancer.

    It is important to get this test done for the family members of breast or ovarian cancer patients, especially when there is more than one person in the family with a cancer diagnosis. This is mainly for early detection & prevention purposes.

  • What are the Symptoms that People Need to Watch out for Breast Cancer?
  • Breast cancer can present as progressively worsening discomfort, pain, swelling, nipple discharge or skin changes on the breast, usually on one side only.

    Ovary cancer is very deceptive, as symptoms are extremely vague. Most people only experience symptoms of feeling fullness in the belly, loss of appetite, frequent urination and tiredness at the late stages of the cancer. Early ovarian cancer is almost without any symptoms. Hence its advisable to have an annual ultrasound scan for all women from the age of 40.

  • Who are at risk of contracting Breast and Ovarian Cancer?
  • Being a woman is enough of a risk factor to get these two cancers as research shows 1 in 7 women may have cancer.

    Women who have not given birth to children or breastfed their children are at a slightly higher risk.

    However, these two cancers can occur randomly to any woman with or without risk factors. 5% of these cancers occur because of a family history of cancer due to BRCA gene positivity.

    Obese, non pregnant, not breast or women with a strong family history of cancer are the considered susceptible groups.

  • Precautions to take to be free from Breast and Ovarian cancer?

The best advice to be free from breast cancer is to do a self breast examination on a monthly basis. Every woman is supposed to examine herself after her periods.

From the age of 45 onwards, a mammogram once every 2 years is highly recommended.

Ovarian cancer cannot be picked up early enough due to lack of symptoms. Hence it is recommended to have a scan of an abdomen at least once every year.

Those women who have a strong family history of cancer are advised to get the BRCA test done to have their cancer risk predicted. If BRCA positive, then preventive measures can be taken. BRCA test is a once in a life-time test and is gaining popularity amongst diagnostics centers around India.