Public Heath Campaign of the Month: ‘Know: BRCA’
Jun 9, 2014, 1:37 PM
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has launched three very pink infographics aimed at raising awareness about breast cancer among young women who may not realize they can be at risk for the disease—usually because of a gene mutation inherited from their mother or father.
The campaign, called “Know:BRCA” uses pink for all three of the new infographics because that color is widely identified with breast cancer awareness campaigns. The graphics focus on:
- Knowing about BRCA1 and BRCA2
- Knowing that everyone has BRCA genes
- Knowing your genetic risk factors
According to the CDC, most breast cancers are found in women who are 50 years old or older. However, each year in the United States about 9,000 women younger than 40 are diagnosed with breast cancer. In this younger group the cancer is generally more aggressive, found at a later stage, has lower survival rates and can often be linked to a mutation in one or two genes called BRCA1 and BRCA2.
Usually the BRCA genes protect people from cancer, but mutations to the genes can increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancer in general and especially in younger women. Discussions with physicians and genetics counselors about family history of breast and ovarian cancer can determine the need to test for the gene mutations. And if the tests are positive, health care experts may advise preventive treatment to help avoid breast and ovarian cancer, such as long-term medication or prophylactic mastectomy—the surgery actress Angelina Jolie chose last year because of her family history of breast cancer.
Without treatment, women with a BRCA gene mutation are seven times more likely to get breast cancer and 30 times more likely to get ovarian cancer before age 70 than other women.
The goal of the new infographics is to encourage women to learn their family history of cancer and then talk to their doctor if they have:
- Multiple relatives with breast cancer
- Any relatives with ovarian cancer
- Relatives who were diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer before age 50
The CDC also recently released a new physician tool to help doctors advise young patients about BRCA testing and prophylactic treatment.
>>Bonus Link: Read a new New York Times story on the evolution of breast cancer treatment
This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.