If you were born with certain mutations (changes) in the BRCA1 gene or the BRCA2 gene, you’re at higher risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. You may also be at higher risk of developing other types of cancer.
Genetic counseling and testing can help you understand your risk of developing these cancers — or getting them again.
- Genetic tests can show whether you were born with mutations in certain genes that increase your risk of cancer.
- Genetic counseling can help you understand the testing process and decide if it makes sense for you. It can also help you understand your results.
Should I talk to the doctor about genetic testing?
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
- 2 or more family members who had breast cancer
- 1 or more family members with 2 types of BRCA-related cancer (including breast and ovarian cancer)
- Eastern European (Ashkenazi) Jewish heritage
It's also a good idea 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.
What about cost?
Insurance plans must cover genetic counseling and testing for women at higher risk of getting breast cancer. That means you may be able to get counseling at no cost to you. Talk to your insurance company to find out more.
What do I ask the doctor?
When you visit the doctor, it helps to have questions written down ahead of time. You may also want to ask a family member or close friend to go with you to take notes on the conversation for you.
Print these questions and take them with you when you visit the doctor.
- Am I at 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 genetic 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 would you recommend to check for breast and ovarian cancer?
- Is there information I can take with me about genetic testing?
Content last updated January 14, 2022
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