New Guidelines Urge More Women to Get BRCA Testing

Connect News New Guidelines Urge More Women to Get BRCA Testing

On August 20, 2019, the United States Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) put out new cancer guidelines. These guidelines urged more people to get BRCA testing. That’s a type of genetic testing for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.

What Does the Update Say?

Before, the USPSTF appealed to women with a family history of these cancers to get tested. That was to to see if they carried a harmful mutation, or change, of the BRCA gene. Women with that mutation have a higher chance of getting breast and ovarian cancer.

The new guidelines go beyond the original ones. Now, they also include breast and ovarian cancer survivors. In addition, they also recommend testing for people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent. That’s because they are also more likely to get these types of cancers.

Should You Get BRCA Testing?

Under the new guidelines, you should see your doctor if you or a close family member has had:

After you meet with your doctor, he or she may recommend that you consider genetic testing.

This guideline doesn’t apply if you or a close family member haven’t had any of these cancers. In that case, the guidelines do not recommend that you get genetic counseling.

What is Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Syndrome?

Hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome is passed down through the genes. It’s the most common hereditary breast cancer syndrome. About 1 in 400 people  have this harmful mutation in either the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene. It’s even more common in those with Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry.

Women with a one of these genetic mutations are more likely to get breast and ovarian cancer. When they carry a mutation in the BRCA1 gene, they have up to an 87 percent risk of breast cancer. Their risk of ovarian cancer is 44 percent higher, too.

Men who carry the gene are at higher risk for prostate and male breast cancer. Both men and women may also be at higher risk for pancreatic cancer and melanoma.

Why Is Genetic Testing Important?

“Genetic testing isn’t right for everyone,” said Erin Campbell, oncology genetic counselor at UT Medical Center. “But it is great to see that these guidelines now include women who have already had cancer.”

Earlier versions of this guideline focused on women who had not had cancer. Doctors now know that women and men with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation may have better results from targeted therapies. They may also benefit from different operations than people without the mutation.

In other words, testing isn’t just to find a reason why the cancer happened. It can have a big influence on a patient’s care and outcome in treatment.

“Certainly, this would be potentially life-saving information for their family members as well,” said Campbell.

Learn More About the New BRCA Testing Guidelines

Have you or a close family member had one of these cancers? If so, UT Medical Center encourages you to contact your own health care provider. Your doctor can help you decide whether genetic testing might be helpful for your or your family.

You can learn more about hereditary breast and ovarian cancer at Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered (FORCE). Clinicians can find the updated recommendation at the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). It’s also available at


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