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Previvors are individuals who are more likely to develop breast cancer, but have not developed breast cancer. This predisposition to cancer can result from a family history, mutated BRCA gene, or other factors. The term “previvor” was coined in 2000 by FORCE.

BRCA stands for BReast CAncer susceptibility gene. You have two of them (BRCA1 and BRCA2), and normally they help prevent breast cancer. When they mutate, however, they can create a disposition toward breast and other cancers.

Both BRCA1 and BRCA2 are normal human genes that produce proteins responsible for suppressing the growth of tumors. However, these genes can sometimes become mutated. BRCA mutations are inherited from a person’s mother or father. These mutations are inherited in a dominant fashion. This means that one copy of a mutated BRCA gene increases a person’s risk of developing cancer. Thus, BRCA mutations cannot skip a generation. Even if a person does not develop cancer, they still carry the mutation and can pass it on.

Technically, everyone has the BRCA gene. However, only 1 in 500 women in the U.S. have a BRCA mutation.

According to Komen, mutations of the BRCA1 gene are most commonly seen among Ashkenazi Jewish women. Two to three percent of caucasian women have this mutation, while one percent of African-American and four percent of Hispanic women do.

Meanwhile, three percent of African-American women have a BRCA2 mutation. And only one percent of Ashkenazi Jewish women and around two percent of caucasian women have the mutation.

BRCA1 and BRCA2 are very similar, as they are both genes that when mutated make breast cancer more likely. However, BRCA1 breast cancers are more difficult to treat. They do not respond to hormone therapies as well as BRCA2 breast cancers. They are also more likely to be triple-negative. BRCA2 mutations, however, have a higher risk of fallopian tube cancer.

No. BRCA1 mutations increase women’s risk of getting breast cancer by the age of 70 from 12 percent to between 55 and 65 percent. This risk is only increased to 45 percent for BRCA2 mutations. Furthermore, BRCA1 mutations increase the risk of ovarian cancer from 1.3 percent to 39 percent. The risk of ovarian cancer increases to between 11 and 17 percent with BRCA2.

Testing for a mutated BRCA gene involves analyzing DNA, such as in your blood or a cheek swab. This can be done at a hospital or with an at-home kit. Your insurance might not cover the cost of the test unless you are likely to have an inherited mutation due to a family history of breast cancer. That being said, companies are producing more and more home kits and lower and lower costs. It may be worth checking into if you are concerned.

BRCA tests range from less than $200 to $4,000. They may be covered by your health insurance if you meet certain criteria, such as a strong family history of breast cancer.

Having BRCA mutations does not mean you will get breast cancer. However, it does increase your risk. Women who have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation are between 40 to 85 percent more likely to develop breast cancer in their lifetime. This is roughly three to seven times higher than women without the mutation. While a prophylactic mastectomy is a deeply personal choice, the good news is that it effectively reduces a woman’s breast cancer risk. It may be useful to you to read other previvors’ stories of facing a BRCA mutation.

Most BRCA tests are accurate when it comes to determining whether you have a mutated gene or not. However, it is possible to have a mutated BRCA gene and not develop breast cancer. Similarly, you can test negative for a BRCA mutation and still develop breast cancer in your lifetime. Genetic tests should not be viewed as a guarantee of one’s lifetime breast cancer risk.

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