Women who are at high risk for breast cancer can take blood tests to screen for mutations in the BRCA genes. However, genetic testing is done only when definitely indicated by a personal or a strong family history. Genetic testing might also be used to determine if a woman who has already been diagnosed with breast cancer is at an increased risk for a second breast cancer or ovarian cancer.

For some women, the benefits of genetic testing include the ability to make medical and lifestyle decisions while reducing the anxiety of not knowing their genetic background. Another benefit is the ability to make a proactive decision regarding prophylactic surgery or chemoprevention. In addition, many women are able to participate in clinical research trials that might in the long run decrease their risk of death from breast cancer.

Here are some questions to consider when thinking about genetic testing:

  • Am I prepared to cope with the result? Are my family members, including my children and my spouse prepared to cope?
  • What are my goals for testing?
  • How would I use my test results? What will I do differently if the results are positive, or if they are negative?
  • With whom will I share my results?
  • Would a positive test result change relationships within my family?
  • What is the cost of genetic testing? Will my insurance cover it?

Note: In 2008, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) took effect. This act prevents employers and health insurers from penalizing individuals when genetic testing reveals information regarding an individual’s health.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 02/10/2014.

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