If you have a family history of breast cancer, it can be very helpful to talk to a genetic counselor about getting tested for BRCA gene mutations. They can also help assess your risk and advise you on screening options and risk-reducing actions to keep your risk as low as possible.


The genetic test that shows whether you have a BRCA gene mutation is a blood test or a mouthwash that only takes a few minutes, but it can be complicated. Which means there are a lot of important issues to discuss with your doctor or healthcare provider, including:

  • Limitations of BRCA Testing
  • The different possible results of the test and what they mean
  • How likely it is that you'll have a positive test result
  • Potential legal issues associated with genetic testing
  • Your social situation and your emotional comfort level with testing
  • How a positive or negative test result may affect your life


Results usually come back in about 3 weeks and are delivered to you by your healthcare provider. When you get your results, you should ask your doctor about them, including:

  • What your results mean for your breast and ovarian cancer risk
  • Risk-reducing and screening recommendations based on your results
  • Implications of your results for your family members


The big advantage of genetic testing is that if you are positive for a BRCA mutation, you know you have a higher risk for breast cancer. That may not sound like much, but it means you’ve got a big advantage.

Knowledge means you can take the “Right Action” now.

If you test negative for a BRCA mutation, great! But your family history and personal medical factors need to be considered to assess your overall risk. Another advantage of genetic testing is that you can pass the knowledge on to other members of your family. If you test positive, they may not want to hear it but it’s powerful knowledge to have.


The Right Action to lower your breast cancer risk begins with knowledge. But your family may not have the same attitude. Some family members may be resistant, or even resent you for getting a genetic test. It can tell them something they may not want to know: that they also are potentially at a higher risk. But it’s no reason to avoid the knowledge yourself. And hopefully, with your example, they’ll understand the facts and take their own “Right Action” as well.

Privacy is a big issue with genetic testing. Thankfully, there are now laws intended to protect people who get genetic tests from certain types of discrimination

So you know your risk. Now what? There’s no single action that’s right for everyone. And it can be hard to decide what to do. Get help deciding what to do from genetic counselors, trusted healthcare professionals, and other women who are going through similar experiences. Here is a list of support groups and organizations where you can get in touch with other women who are making the same types of decisions.