Although a woman with an altered BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene is statistically more likely to develop breast cancer than a woman without this genetic alteration, not every woman with an altered BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene will get breast cancer. Remember, genetics is one of a myriad of risk factors. An altered gene does not guarantee the development of cancer.
The first step after testing positive for a genetic abnormality is to consult with your doctor. Together you can determine the best course of action and decide on a preventive strategy. Strategies include:
Risk avoidance. Risk avoidance involves engaging in behaviors believed to reduce your risk of cancer, such as changing dietary habits, limiting alcohol consumption, exercising regularly, and losing excess weight. This step is generally recommended for everyone, whatever your risk level.
Diligent Surveillance. Surveillance for breast cancer means having clinical breast exams and mammograms at least once a year. Monthly breast self-examination (BSE) also is vital. Performing monthly BSEs will give you a sense of breast familiarity, which can help you detect any changes in your breasts.
Preventative Measures. If you test positive for a genetic abnormality and have other compelling risk factors, you may elect to take a more proactive approach, such as taking the medication tamoxifen, which could help reduce your risk of developing breast cancer. You also might want to consider preventative (prophylactic) surgical removal of your breasts, ovaries, or both before cancer has the opportunity to develop. Participating in a clinical trial in breast cancer prevention may be another option for exploring alternative methods or new medications for reducing risk.