Genetic Testing FAQs

The following are commonly asked questions and answers about genetic testing for breast cancer.

What’s genetic screening for breast cancer?

It’s genetic testing to find out if you’ve inherited harmful gene mutations that increase your risk of developing breast cancer. Talk with your Mercy doctor about whether this type of testing is right for you.

Does health insurance cover genetic testing for breast cancer?

The Affordable Care Act requires insurance companies to pay for genetic counseling and testing for women who meet U.S. Preventive Services Task Force guidelines and other criteria. If you don’t have insurance coverage, programs are available to help.

What’s the cost and benefit of genetic screening for breast cancer?

Genetic screening helps people with inherited breast cancer risks take steps to prevent cancer or detect it earlier when it’s easier to treat. This reduces cancer treatment costs and helps people with a family history of breast cancer live healthier lives.

How is BRCA gene testing done?

DNA from a blood or saliva sample is used. The sample is analyzed at a lab, and results are usually available in about a month. Testing can be done for one or both BRCA genes, depending on your family history and risk factors.

How is breast cancer genetically passed down?

Genetic changes (called mutations) are passed down in families. Your lifetime risk for breast cancer increases if you inherit a BRCA gene mutation from either parent. Other breast cancers are seen repeatedly in families when family members share behaviors that increase risks, such as smoking and obesity.

When should I get tested for breast cancer?

Your Mercy doctor will consider your personal and family history to decide if you’re at risk for inherited breast cancer. If so, you’ll be referred to a genetic counselor. Your genetic counselor will recommend the type and timing of genetic testing that’s best for you and your family.

Can the BRCA gene be passed through your father?

Yes. Fathers and mothers both have a 50% risk of passing BRCA gene mutations to their children.

Does genetic screening for breast cancer reduce mortality?

Yes. Genetic testing is a safe and effective way to learn whether you’ve inherited gene mutations that greatly increase your lifetime risk of developing breast cancer. Knowing your genetic risk helps you and your Mercy doctor create a prevention strategy based on your personal and family history.

How can I detect breast cancer at an early stage?

You can get screening tests and exams to help detect breast cancer at an early stage. Beginning at age 19, perform regular breast self-exams and have a clinical breast exam by a Mercy doctor or Mercy OB/GYN each year. From ages 40 to 74, have an annual screening mammogram. If you have a family history of breast cancer, start before age 40. If you’re age 75 or older, in good health and expected to live 10 years or longer, continue having screening mammograms as recommended by your Mercy doctor. 

How does breast density affect cancer risk?

Breast density refers to breasts with more fibrous than fatty tissue, making them more prone to breast cancer. Dense breasts also make it harder to see cancer on mammograms. Breast density can be inherited or caused by hormone replacement therapy or a low body mass index. 

At what age should I be screened for breast cancer?

You should start performing regular breast self-exams and having clinical breast exams at age 19. Have an annual screening mammogram beginning at age 40, but start earlier if you have a family history of breast cancer. Discuss breast cancer screening with your Mercy doctor or Mercy OB/GYN.

Is the gene for breast cancer dominant or recessive?

BRCA gene mutations are inherited in an autosomal dominant pattern, which means you only need to get the abnormal gene from one parent to be affected by the disease. 

What happens if a male has BRCA gene mutations?

Although male breast cancer is rare, men can also carry mutated BRCA genes. A man’s lifetime risk of developing breast cancer is 1% with a BRCA1 mutation and 6% with a BRCA2 mutation. He is also at increased risk of other cancers such as prostate.

Are all types of mutations to BRCA equally dangerous?

Each mutation affects your risk of breast cancer and other cancers slightly differently. In general, the risk of breast, ovarian, prostate, and pancreatic cancer is increased with either mutation. 

Breast Cancer Resources