Genetic counseling and testing can help you understand your risk of some kinds of cancer. Genetic tests can show whether you were born with mutations (changes) in certain genes that increase your risk of cancer.
If you were born with certain mutations in the BRCA1 gene or the BRCA2 gene, you are at higher risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. You may also be at higher risk of developing other types of cancers.
Talk with your doctor about genetic testing to learn about your risk of breast and ovarian cancers if you have:
- A family member who had breast cancer before age 50
- A family member who had cancer in both breasts
- A family member who had both breast and ovarian cancer
- A male family member who had breast cancer
- Two or more family members who had breast cancer
- Eastern European (Ashkenazi) Jewish heritage
You may also want to ask about genetic testing if you've already had breast or ovarian cancer.
If genetic tests show that you're at higher risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer – or of getting cancer a second time – you and your doctor can discuss options for managing your risk.
Genetic counseling can help you understand the testing process and your results. The Affordable Care Act requires most health insurance plans to cover genetic counseling and testing for women at higher risk. Depending on your insurance plan, you may be able to get genetic counseling and testing at no cost to you. Check with your insurance provider.
What do I ask the doctor?
Visiting the doctor can be stressful. It helps to have questions written down ahead of time. Print these questions and take them with you when you visit the doctor. You may also want to ask a family member or close friend to go with you to take notes.
- What is my risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer?
- Are there warning signs I can look out for?
- Based on my health history and my family history, would you recommend genetic testing to learn more about my risk?
- What are the benefits and risks of genetic testing?
- What are my chances of having a mutated (changed) gene that could increase my risk for cancer?
- What would a positive or negative test result mean for me?
- If I have a mutated gene, what are my options for managing my risk?
- If I have a mutated gene, what would it mean for my children's health?
- If I have a mutated gene, what does that mean for other members of my family?
- If I get geneting testing, who will be able to see my test results?
- Besides mutated genes, what other things increase my risk for breast and ovarian cancer?
- If I decide not to do genetic testing, what types of cancer screening tests are recommended to check for breast and ovarian cancer?
- Is there information I can take with me about genetic testing?
Content last updated February 3, 2020
This information on genetic testing for breast and ovarian cancer was adapted from materials from the National Cancer Institute.
Rebecca Chasan, Ph.D.
Chief, Science Writing and Review Branch
Office of Communications and Public Liaison
National Cancer Institute
National Institutes of Health