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Women's Health 2020

How is the risk of cancer affected by the BRCA gene?

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Helen Forristal

Director of Nursing, Marie Keating Foundation

The BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene, or the ‘Angelina Jolie gene’ as many know it, is a human gene that produces tumour suppressor proteins.


Mutating or altering this gene can result in incorrect functioning and, as a result, increased likelihood of cells developing genetic alterations, which can lead to cancer.

The BRCA1/2 mutation does not cause cancer to occur on its own, though, and having a positive BRCA gene mutation doesn’t necessarily mean you will definitely develop cancer.

However, people with BRCA gene mutations are at greater risk of developing cancer because their cells’ ability to repair DNA damage may be impaired by the gene mutation. It is the accumulation of DNA damage that can cause a cell to change into a cancerous cell.

Is the BRCA gene inherited?

Many things are passed down in a family’s genealogical lineage, and the BRCA gene is no different.

If you are a woman who has had breast cancer or ovarian cancer in the past, you may be the first in your family to have developed the BRCA mutation, but it could also be a result of someone in your family line passing the mutation down.

Both men and women can carry the BRCA gene and, for women, this increases their risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. But, why is it important to know whether you have a BRCA gene mutation?

Well, it’s important to know so that other members of your family are aware of the risks and can take proactive steps if desired.

With the information and advice you receive, you can begin to plan and move forward if it feels like the right thing to do

What should I do if I am BRCA positive?

It is important to have BRCA testing done so that you know for sure if you are BRCA positive. You will need to talk to your GP in the first instance and seek a referral to a genetic counsellor.

With the information and advice you receive, you can begin to plan and move forward if it feels like the right thing to do. For many, deciding to get this test done can be daunting, but you can begin to take control of your health and think about the best options for you.

Once tested and if you are positive, it is very important that you share this information with your family so that they can make the decision on whether they would like to be tested too.

The gene is passed down from your parents, so both your siblings and children have a 50/50 chance of having the same mutation. This is why it’s important that they know the risks and are allowed to make the decision for themselves.

Advice on how to tell your family members that you are BRCA positive, and information on risk-reducing surgery is available on our BRCA pagewww.mariekeating.ie.

For anyone newly diagnosed or needing further information or support, please have a look at our peer-to-peer support network who have all tested positive to the BRCA gene and are willing to help you here.

The network provides a space where questions can be asked and answered in confidence by people that have gone through the same process.

Due to the essential decisions that have been made by the Government in relation to gatherings and social distancing, the Marie Keating Foundation has been forced to cancel all of its upcoming fundraisers, which has had an immediate impact on the cancer charity’s income. As a result, the Marie Keating Foundation is making an urgent appeal for the public’s help as they face an unprecedented situation with fundraising being curtailed and services stretched. If you can, please donate at www.mariekearing.ie/donate

About the Marie Keating Foundation

Following their mother Marie’s death from breast cancer in 1998, the Keating family committed to ensuring men and women in every community in Ireland had access to the necessary information to prevent cancer or detect it at its earliest stages.

The Marie Keating Foundation is now a leading voice in cancer awareness and information for both men and women in Ireland. The Foundation’s mission is to make cancer less frightening by enlightening and it provides support and information on all the common cancers including breast cancer, cervical cancer, bowel cancer, lung cancer, skin cancer and prostate cancer among others.

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