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Breast Cancer (BRCA) Gene Test

British Columbia Specific Information

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in women in British Columbia. Breast cancer can occur in men as well, but it is not as common. Tests and treatments for breast cancer vary from person to person, and are based on individual circumstances. Certain factors such as your age, family history, or a previous breast cancer diagnosis may increase your risk of developing breast cancer. For information about your specific risk factors, speak with your health care provider.

A number of screening methods, including mammograms in women, can help find and diagnose breast cancer. The decision to have a mammogram or use any other screening method may be a difficult decision for some women. While screening for breast cancer is often recommended, it is not mandatory. Speak with your health care provider for information regarding how to get screened, the facts and myths about screening tests, how to maintain your breast health, and to get help making an informed decision.

For more information about breast cancer and breast cancer screening, visit:

If you have questions about breast cancer or medications, speak with your health care provider or call 8-1-1 to speak with a registered nurse or pharmacist. Our nurses are available anytime, every day of the year, and our pharmacists are available every night from 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 a.m.

Test Overview

A breast cancer (BRCA) gene test is a blood test to check for changes (mutations) in genes called BRCA1 and BRCA2. This test can help you know your chance of getting breast cancer and ovarian cancer. A BRCA gene test does not test for cancer itself.

A woman's risk of breast and ovarian cancer is higher if she has BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene changes. Men with these gene changes have a higher risk of breast cancer. And both men and women with these changes may be at higher risk for other cancers. You can inherit the gene changes from either your mother's or father's side of the family.

BRCA gene changes aren't common. If you or your family have certain health problems, it may mean that you have BRCA gene changes. If you have risk factors such as having one or more members of your family who have had breast or ovarian cancer, being diagnosed with breast cancer before age 50, or having an Ashkenazi Jewish heritage, you may want to consider testing.

There are some important things to keep in mind when you are thinking about having a BRCA gene test.

  • A negative BRCA result does not guarantee that you will not get breast cancer. BRCA gene changes do increase the risk of breast cancer. But there are other gene changes that may cause cancer, too.
  • If a family member has breast or ovarian cancer, think about asking that person to have the BRCA test before you decide to have the test. If your family member's results are negative, it probably will not help to test the rest of the family.
  • Most health plans will cover the cost of genetic testing if you meet the conditions for testing.

If you are concerned that you may have a BRCA gene change, talk with your doctor.

It is very important to have genetic counselling both before and after this test. It can help you understand the benefits, risks, and possible outcomes of the test.

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Why It Is Done

A BRCA gene test is done to find out if you have BRCA gene changes that increase your risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

The results of a BRCA gene test can help you find out how high your cancer risk is. If it is high, you might decide to take steps to lower your risk. There are several things you might do, such as:

  • Have checkups and tests more often.
  • Have surgery to remove your breasts.
  • Have surgery to remove your ovaries.
  • Take medicines that may help prevent breast cancer.

If you have a family member who has breast or ovarian cancer, you may want to ask that family member to have a gene test first. If your relative's test finds a changed BRCA gene, you and other family members can then be tested for that specific gene change. But if your family member's test is negative, it is not likely that you carry the gene change.

How To Prepare

The information from a BRCA gene test can have a deep impact on your life. So it is very important to get genetic counselling before you have this test. A genetic counsellor can talk with you about the test, what the results mean, and your medical and emotional concerns.

You will be asked to sign a consent form that says you understand the risks of the test and agree to have it done.

Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns about the need for the test, its risks, or how it will be done. To help you understand the importance of this test, fill out the medical test information form .

How It Is Done

The health professional taking a sample of your blood will:

  • Wrap an elastic band around your upper arm to stop the flow of blood. This makes the veins below the band larger so it is easier to put a needle into the vein.
  • Clean the needle site with alcohol.
  • Put the needle into the vein. More than one needle stick may be needed.
  • Attach a tube to the needle to fill it with blood.
  • Remove the band from your arm when enough blood is collected.
  • Put a gauze pad or cotton ball over the needle site as the needle is removed.
  • Put pressure on the site and then put on a bandage.

How It Feels

The blood sample is taken from a vein in your arm. An elastic band is wrapped around your upper arm. It may feel tight. You may feel nothing at all from the needle, or you may feel a quick sting or pinch.

It is common to worry before a BRCA test and while waiting for its results.


There is very little chance of a problem from having a blood sample taken from a vein.

  • You may get a small bruise at the site. You can lower the chance of bruising by keeping pressure on the site for several minutes.
  • In rare cases, the vein may become swollen after the blood sample is taken. You can use a warm compress several times a day to treat this.

Other risks

The information from a BRCA test can affect you and your family in many ways. For example:

  • You may feel anxious or depressed if you learn that you have a high risk of cancer and could pass that risk onto your children. This information could also affect your relationship with your partner or other family members.
  • If you test positive for a BRCA gene change, you will face hard decisions about options to reduce your risk, such as surgery to remove your breasts (mastectomy).
  • You may worry that your genetic information could affect your job options or ability to get private insurance. For information on the risks of genetic discrimination in Canada, talk with your doctor or contact the Canadian Coalition for Genetic Fairness at 1-800-998-7398. Or visit its website at


A breast cancer (BRCA) gene test is a blood test to check for changes (mutations) in genes called BRCA1 and BRCA2. This test can help find out your chance of getting breast cancer and ovarian cancer.

It may take several weeks to get the results.

Normal (negative)

No changes were found in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes.

A negative result and your overall family risk must be considered together. If you have a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer, your cancer risk may be higher than normal even if you have a negative BRCA result.

  • Only about 5% to 10% of breast and ovarian cancers are linked to the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene change.
  • It is possible that you may have other gene changes that make cancer more likely.

Abnormal (positive)

BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene changes are present.

Women who have BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene changes have:

    • Women with a mutated BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene have a 40% to 85% chance of developing breast cancer in their lifetime.
    • Women with a mutated BRCA1 gene have a 25% to 65% chance of developing ovarian cancer in their lifetime.
    • Women with a mutated BRCA2 gene have a 15% to 20% chance of developing ovarian cancer in their lifetime.

Your range of risk will depend on the type of genes you have and your personal and family history of cancer.

Men with BRCA2 mutations, and to a lesser extent BRCA1 mutations, are also at increased risk of breast cancer.  Men with harmful BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations have a higher risk of prostate cancer.

Uncertain (variant of uncertain significance, or VUS)

This result may mean that a gene change is present, but it is hard for your doctor to tell if the change is important and if it affects your chances of getting cancer.

What Affects the Test

Your doctor will talk with you about anything that may keep you from having the test or that may change the test results.

What To Think About

Genetic counselling before and after a BRCA test can help you understand the benefits, risks, and possible outcomes of testing.

  • To find doctors who do gene tests and counselling, contact your local chapter of the Canadian Cancer Society at
  • To find a genetic counsellor near you, contact the contact the Canadian Association of Genetic Counsellors (CAGC) at



  1. National Comprehensive Cancer Network (2015). Genetic/familial high-risk assessment: Breast and ovarian. NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology, version 1.2015. Accessed June 2, 2015.


Adaptation Date: 9/22/2021

Adapted By: HealthLink BC

Adaptation Reviewed By: HealthLink BC