The “breast cancer gene,” also known as the BRCA genes, are the genetic markers with the strongest link to breast cancer risk. There are two of them — BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 — and thanks to developments in medical science, patients can now be tested for warning signs in both. 104743]
The BRCA genes don’t cause breast cancer — that distinction is important. Every human being has these genes. They actually help prevent the growth of cancer by repairing breaks in DNA that can lead to tumor growths. Some people, however, have specific mutations in the BRCA genes that make them work differently. These changes in function increase the risk of breast cancer. The mutations of the BRCA genes are also often passed down through generations, and this is thought to be part of the reason breast cancer is hereditary.
Women with a family history of breast cancer can get tested for the gene, giving them strong clues as to the likelihood that they’ll have cancer later in life. As a preventative measure, many women will opt either to be routinely checked for tumors more often or to undergo surgery and get a mastectomy. The mastectomy, while a difficult and trying process, radically decreases their risk.
We talked to six women who tested positive for the gene; the test results had immeasurable impacts on their lives. Though the experience of battling breast cancer is something none of these women would wish on anyone, they all agreed: Their lives have actually improved after getting genetically tested. Alongside their hardships and struggle, they met incredible people and embarked on a transformative journey. The results affected their relationships with their bodies, their families, and ultimately themselves. In hearing these strong women’s vulnerable stories, we loved talking to and getting to know every single one. Here’s what they had to say.