7 Ways of Living Your Best Life With the BRCA1, BRCA2 Gene Mutation

Health Writer
View as:|
1 of 10

Finding out you have a gene mutation can be stressful and scary. However, once you and your doctor know you have BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations, you can take steps to prevent or detect breast, ovarian, or other cancers early. Here’s what you need to know to live your best life with this knowledge.


Know your potential risk of cancer with BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations

The average woman has a 12 percent chance of getting breast cancer, but women with BRCA1 have a 72 percent chance, and women with BRCA2 have a 69 percent chance. Similarly, while 1.3 percent of the population will develop ovarian cancer, 44 percent of those with BRCA1, and 17 percent of those with BRCA2, will get the disease. Those with BRCA1/2 are more likely to develop new primary tumors years after their first cancer diagnosis.


Know your options

Knowledge IS power. Women with BRCA1 and 2 gene mutations can increase their chances of catching the disease early by setting up extra screenings including more frequent clinical examinations, mammograms, and MRI scans. Some women choose to undergo prophylactic (preventative) surgery to remove the breast or ovarian tissue that is most at risk. A third option is called chemoprevention, and can include use of drugs like tamoxifen (Nolvadex) that are known to lower the risk of certain types of women’s cancers.


Know your body

Keep your appointments and screenings and stay aware of your body. Do breast self-exams. Watch for changes to breasts and nipples, changes in sizes and shapes, lumps, swelling, skin issues including rashes, redness, and irritation. Not all breast cancers appear as lumps. For ovarian cancer, watch for changes to your abdomen – bloating, indigestion, pressure in your pelvis or back, changes in your cycle, and a new pressure or urgency to use the bathroom.


Make smart lifestyle choices

It’s time to take your health seriously, and maybe the knowledge of this gene mutation is the incentive you need to make changes. Just 30 minutes of regular exercise can reduce your risk of developing cancer by as much as 20 percent. Clean up your diet and focus on fruits and vegetables. Stop smoking – now is the time.


Take action (or not)

Once you’ve been tested, assessed your risk, evaluated your options, think about what’s right for you. Are you planning to have children? Then you may want to focus on non-surgical options. Are you old enough to be approaching menopause? Maybe now is the time to take action to reduce your risk.


Get support

You don’t need to do this alone. For many, the identification of a BRCA1 or 2 mutation can be a stressful experience akin to a cancer diagnosis itself. Sometimes sharing resources and talking with others can be a great way to reduce stress. You can contact organizations like Bright Pink, Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered, Oneinforty, and Pink Hope to learn and connect with others.


Work with your doctor

The first step in working with a doctor is finding the right one for you. Meet with more than one. Ask around and talk to friends in your area to assess each doctor’s competence, style, and personality. Once you’ve chosen the right one, bring them up to speed on your family history and genetic profile and have him or her lay out the options. Take your time to consider all the angles and move forward with your plan.


Bonus: practice stress relief

Don't forget to be good to yourself. Many cancer centers offer a variety of relaxation activities and options. These can include classes like yoga, Tai Chi, or qi gong, or art classes like painting or writing. Maybe you can choose some stress relieving activity that aligns with your health goals of eating better and getting more exercise – take a cooking class, take a walk, stretch.


Remember, knowledge is power

If you or someone you love has the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation, remember that knowledge is power. Now that you know, you can take steps to detect or prevent cancer. It’s likely to involve some treatment options and lifestyle changes, but maybe this is the wakeup call you or they need to live a healthier life. Take a deep breath, make a plan, and live on.