There are several courses of action designed to manage the increased risk of cancer in men and women who have tested positive for a harmful BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation. The National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health recommends frequent cancer screenings, such as mammograms for breast cancer and blood tests for ovarian and prostate cancer, in addition to behavioral changes associated with a reduced cancer risk that include increasing physical activity and avoiding alcohol and a high-fat diet. Prophylactic surgery, which involves removing as much of the “at-risk” tissue as possible, and chemoprevention, where natural or synthetic substances are used to reduce the risk of developing cancer, are additional options.
Once cancer has been detected, treatment options for patients with BRCA mutations usually include a combination of primary therapies, which involves surgery and often radiation, followed by additional (adjuvant) therapy in patients with a high risk of cancer recurrence. These include chemotherapy, hormonal therapy and/or target-drug therapy to kill any cancer cells that may have spread throughout the body from the original tumor. Sometimes, these additional therapies may be administered before primary therapy to shrink tumors that are too large to surgically remove.
New cancer treatment research is underway, some of it focused on using information gleaned from an individual’s full genomic profile to fight cancer and on gene therapy, in which DNA or RNA is introduced into cells to target genes that are in the process of metastasis, the rapid and unregulated cell division that leads to cancer. To learn more about recent scientific advances in the fight against cancer visit cancer.gov.