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Inherited harmful mutations (changes) in genes called BRCA1 and BRCA2 increase a person’s risk of breast cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, approximately 72% of women who inherit a BRCA1 mutation and 69% who inherit a BRCA2 mutation will develop breast cancer by age 80. In contrast, 12% of women in the general population will develop breast cancer during their lives.

Having one of these harmful mutations also increases the risk of developing a second cancer in the opposite breast, developing breast cancer earlier than the non-inherited form of the same cancer and developing other cancers, including of the pancreas and ovaries. The lifetime risk of ovarian cancer in BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutation carriers is 35–60%, compared to 1.6% in the general population. Men with BRCA mutations are at higher risk for breast, pancreatic and prostate cancers.

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Understand your personal risk and screening eligibility.

While those increased risks might sound frightening, there are significant benefits to knowing you carry the BRCA1 or BRCA 2 mutation. That information allows you to take steps to protect your health and increase the likelihood that, should cancer occur, it will be caught early, when the opportunity for successful treatment is greatest.

Who’s eligible for testing?

The clinical cancer genetics program at Montefiore Nyack Hospital offers comprehensive cancer risk assessment, cancer genetic counseling and predictive genetic testing to those who have an increased potential for a gene mutation and a personal and family history of cancer, including breast and ovarian cancer. If a genetic change is found, other family members will be tested for that same mutation.

Testing may be appropriate if you:

Personalized prevention plan

If you’re positive for a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation, your medical team will work with you to develop a prevention plan. “Once you have an understanding of your personal risk of breast cancer, you can work with your doctor to choose a risk-reduction strategy,” says Sunny Mitchell, MD, Medical Director of The Breast Center at Montefiore Nyack Hospital.

One such strategy is breast cancer screening. There are many types of screenings, including mammograms, MRI exams, ultrasounds, breast exams performed by a physician and monthly breast self-exams. Read more about screenings.

Other possible management strategies include participation in clinical trials, lifestyle changes and preventive surgery, including removal of the breasts and/or removal of the ovaries and fallopian tubes to prevent cancer from occurring in those high-risk locations.

For more information about Montefiore Nyack Hospital’s Cancer Genetics program or to schedule a consultation with the genetic counselor, call 845-348-7579.