Risks associated with inherited alterations in BRCA1 or BRCA2

BRCA1 and BRCA2 are two examples of genes that works to prevent cancer by correcting specific types of  DNA damage.  Inherited alterations in either of these two genes greatly increase the risk of cancer; particularly cancer of the ovary, breast and prostate. Rarely, other cancers, such as melanoma, pancreatic, or other cancers, have also been reported in individuals with BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene alterations.  

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Female Carriers of BRCA1/BRCA2 alterations 

If a woman is found to have inherited an alteration in BRCA1 or BRCA2, there are steps she can take to minimise your likelihood of developing cancer of the breast or ovary

Male Carriers of BRCA1/BRCA2 alterations 

Male Breast Cancer Awareness

Because of the increased risk of male breast cancer, particularly with BRCA2 alterations, men with BRCA alterations are advised to pay attention to any changes in the texture of their breast tissue, and to contact their GP if they notice any lumps or changes in the skin on the chest.

Prostate Cancer Risk Management

PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) is a protein that is often produced by cancers of the prostate. Blood levels of PSA are often increased in men with Prostate Cancer. However, blood levels of PSA can also be increased for a number of reasons other than cancer. 

The goal of screening is to detect Prostate Cancer at the earliest possible stage, when cure is most likely, but if screening gives false positive results, this can cause undue anxiety and unnecessary investigations in healthy men. 

Research is ongoing to determine if prostate cancer screening using a PSA blood test with or without further investigations is useful in men over the age of 40 at increased risk of Prostate Cancer. Further information about the international IMPACT study, co-ordinated by researchers in the Royal Marsden NHS Trust and Institute of Cancer Research, London, is available here

How are BRCA gene alterations inherited?

We each have two copies of each of these genes, one of which we inherit from our mother, and the other from our father. 

If you have inherited a BRCA gene alteration, each of your children (male or female) and each of your siblings (male or female) have a 50% (1 in 2) risk of inheriting the same alteration, as the video here below explains.