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African American Women Less Likely to Get BRCA Testing

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A study found that African American women not diagnosed with breast cancer were 49% less likely than white women to get genetic testing for BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene abnormalities recommended by their doctor. But African American women who were diagnosed with breast cancer chose genetic testing as often as white women. The genetic testing was recommended because of the women's personal and family medical history.

In this study, about half of the African American women who didn't get genetic testing didn't have the testing because they didn't have health insurance or their health insurance didn't cover the testing. Genetic tests can be expensive -- costs range from $300 to $3,000 -- which can affect someone's decision to have the test, even if it's recommended.

On average, African American women have about the same risk of having an abnormal BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene as white women. But research continues to show that non-white women are less likely than white women to have genetic testing.

The risk of having an abnormal BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene is higher in women diagnosed with breast cancer who:

  • have family history of ovarian or breast cancer
  • were diagnosed before age 45
  • have a family member who was diagnosed with breast cancer younger than 45
  • are of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry
  • are African American and diagnosed younger than age 35

Abnormal BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes account for about 10% of all breast cancers. Women who have an abnormal BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene have up to an 85% risk of developing breast cancer by age 70. Their risk for ovarian cancer is also higher.

It's important to get breast cancer genetic testing if a doctor or genetic counselor recommends it based on your personal and family medical history. If the test reveals that you have an abnormal gene, work with your doctor to do everything you can to manage your increased risk, including:

  • Developing an aggressive screening plan. This will probably include more frequent screening starting at an early age and might use other techniques in addition to mammography (such as MRI scans). Close monitoring for ovarian cancer is important, too.
  • Making diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes to lower risk.
  • Considering all the risk-reducing options and creating a plan that's right for YOU. Hormonal therapy medicines and prophylactic removal of the breasts and ovaries are possible options that can lower risk.

No matter your race or ethnicity, your doctor should consider your unique situation and individual risk of having an abnormal breast cancer gene and help you decide whether you should receive genetic counseling and testing. If testing is recommended, don't let cost stand in the way. Talk to your doctor or someone else involved in your care about options for being tested that might reduce the financial burden.

Visit the Breastcancer.org Breast Cancer Risk Factors: Genetics page to learn more about breast cancer genes, assessing your genetic risk, and deciding whether breast cancer gene testing makes sense for YOU.

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