By Carol Guzman
The BRCA gene gets
its name from breast cancer, a disease commonly linked to mutations of the gene.
But a BRCA mutation indicates much more than just an increased risk of
hereditary breast cancer in women. These mutations are also associated with ovarian cancer in women,
breast cancer and prostate cancer in men, pancreatic cancer, and melanoma. Individuals
of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry may face an elevated lifetime chance of BRCA-associated
cancers because they are 10
times more likely to inherit a BRCA gene mutation compared the general
some of the lesser-known and lesser-addressed BRCA-associated cancer in honor
of Prostate Cancer Awareness Month and Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.
Ovarian Cancer and BRCA
National Cancer Institute estimates that 17% of women with an inherited BRCA2
mutation and 44% of women with an inherited BRCA1 mutation will develop ovarian
cancer by the time they are 80 years old.
is often called a “silent killer” because detecting it in its early stages is
extremely difficult. Many ovarian cancer symptoms are vague and mimic things
that women typically deal with regularly: bloating, constipation, abdominal and
pelvic pain, fullness after eating, and menstrual changes. Women who notice these
changes in their bodies should talk to their doctor if the symptoms persist for
more than a few days.
There are no preventative
screening tests or early-warning signs for ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer is detectable once it occurs, but
the methods used aren’t perfect. The most common are the transvaginal
ultrasound (TVUS) and the CA-125 blood test. TVUS uses sound waves to look for
growths inside the uterus, but it can’t identify
whether a tumor on the ovaries is cancerous or benign. The blood test method
checks for elevated levels of the CA-125 protein, but false positives are
possible because elevated
levels of CA-125 can be caused by other conditions.
Prostate Cancer and BRCA
study estimates more than 9% of men with a BRCA1 mutation and 20% of men
with a BRCA2 mutation will develop prostate cancer in their lifetimes. Some men
with prostate cancer may not develop symptoms. Others experience difficulty
urinating, weak or interrupted flow of urine or frequent urination, pain or
burning during urination or ejaculation and constant pelvic and back pain.
ovarian cancer, there is no failproof preventative screening test for prostate
cancer at the moment. A prostate cancer diagnosis can only be made with a
prostate biopsy, which requires 12 small samples of the prostate to be removed
and further examined. Two screening tests are commonly used, including a blood
test for prostate-specific antigen levels and a doctor’s examination by hand;
latter is not recommended by the U.S. Preventive Service Task Force.
BRCA-Related Cancers and
Meeting with a
genetic counselor and, if appropriate, getting genetic testing for BRCA
mutations can help identify your risk early. If cancer occurs, genetic testing
can also be vital in determining which cancer treatment is appropriate for you.
Ovarian cancer patients with BRCA mutations may be candidates for a new
targeted therapy called a PARP
inhibitor, in which an enzyme stops cancer cells from repairing themselves.
Doctors use the same PARP inhibitor to treat prostate cancer patients and
breast cancer patients with a BRCA mutation. Currently, there
are clinical trials involving the PARP inhibitor for individuals with BRCA-associated
cancers that may result in more
cancer has caused more women’s deaths than any other cancer in the female
reproductive system, and prostate cancer
is the most common male cancer in the United States. Both cancers are
difficult to catch in their early stages, but learning more about your genetic
health and speaking to a genetic counselor can empower you to know whether you
have a higher risk of developing these cancers and, if necessary, take steps to
reduce any risk. This month consider talking to your healthcare provider about how
ovarian or prostate cancer may affect you.
Picture Credit: Darryl
Leja, National Human Genome Research Institute, National Institutes of Health