Naturally, in all the cells of our body, we have mechanisms that protect us against cancer. However, when mistakes (in the form of a mutation) happen on exactly these mechanisms, the result is cancer.
When these mutations are carried down in the generations of a family, they cause inheritable cancers. Breast, ovarian, colorectal and prostate cancers can all be the result of a common genetic link.
The genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 are such an example, and when they are mutated they cause breast and ovarian cancer in women. Normally, the job of the product of these two genes is to maintain proper cellular division and suppress tumor formation, so when a mutation stops them from working properly, progressively, a tumor may occur.
These two genes are not the only ones known to cause cancers. Currently, there are about 100 new cancer-risk genes that we can check in order to assess your risk for the disease.
The test involves a diagnostic blood test, which looks for these cancer marker genes. It takes 4 to 8 weeks for the analysis to be returned to us, and depending on your results, some of your relatives may also be asked to take the test.
If you receive a ‘negative’ result, it means that you have not inherited the faulty gene from your family, and your risk of developing cancer is the same as for any other individual.
If you receive a ‘positive’ result, then it means that you are in a higher risk group for developing the disease, and your doctor will discuss with you your options. You may manage it, through life-style changes and / or risk-reducing surgery. The famous Hollywood actress, Angelina Jolie, had preventative surgical removal of her breasts and ovaries, because she was found positive for the BRCA1 mutation.