Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in Europe and mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes significantly increase the risk of developing it.
Around 12.5% of women will have breast cancer in their lifetime. But for women with genetic predisposition, the risk is far higher: 60–90% of women with a BRCA1 mutation and 45–85% of women with a BRCA2 mutation will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Breast cancers related to BRCA1 mutations are more likely to be triple-negative, which means they are more difficult to treat than other types of breast cancer.
Knowing one’s BRCA status can be beneficial in various ways. Women who have the BRCA mutation can reduce their risk of cancer through regular monitoring and may opt to have preventive surgery or chemoprevention. For women with breast cancer, it may help to inform treatment decisions. Men can also benefit from knowing their BRCA status, as BRCA mutations can increase the risk of prostate and other cancers. Identifying BRCA mutations can also benefit the carrier’s family members, who may wish to have genetic testing themselves.
Many people at high risk of developing BRCA-related cancers are unable to access genetic testing. They are therefore not supported to decide how to act in order to reduce their risk of developing cancer.
Where genetic testing is available, it is not always provided in an appropriate or effective way. People undergoing genetic testing should have access to genetic counsellors, who can help them understand the implications of the test and results. Genetic tests should be of high quality and delivered as part of a comprehensive, multidisciplinary approach – but this is not always the case.
Across Europe, people with BRCA mutations face gaps in accessing ongoing care and support.