BRCA Genes and Your Breast Cancer Risk
Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Medical Editor: Barbara K. Hecht, PhD
BRCA, known as the "breast cancer gene," is one of several genetic mutations (alterations in the body's genetic material) that have been associated with the development of breast and ovarian cancer. Changes in two genes, known as BRCA1 and BRCA2 (short for breast cancer 1 and breast cancer 2), can be inherited and lead to a markedly increased risk for developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
Only about 5% of women with breast cancer are found to carry a mutated BRCA gene. Studies have confirmed that women who carry these BRCA mutations have a high risk for development of breast cancer, up to seven times that of women who do not have BRCA gene alterations. By the age of 80, women with BRCA mutations have about an 80% chance of developing breast cancer. Having a BRCA mutation also predisposes a woman to developing breast cancer at an early age. The incidence of BRCA mutation is higher in some ethnic groups, such as people of Ashkenazi (European) Jewish origin and in some populations in Iceland, the Netherlands, and the Balkans.