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Testing, Testing 123: Phlebotomy Basics

When my mother underwent chemotherapy, we spent a lot of time visiting the phlebotomy lab for blood testing. I was always impressed by how easily the phlebotomist was able to find and puncture a vein to draw blood on the first try. I knew there had to be a method to it, and was astounded by how effortless and painless they made the process. It led me to research a lot about blood tests, from drawing to the actual screening. I've created this site to share what I've learned in the hopes of teaching others. The more you understand, the more control you can have over your own health care.



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Testing, Testing 123: Phlebotomy Basics

4 Facts About The BRCA Gene Mutation And Breast Cancer

by Francisco Arnold

Your genes are your body's blueprints, inherited from your biological parents. Those genes hold the information that determines many of your body's features like your hair, eye, and skin color. But they're also responsible for instructing your body's cells how to function. There are two genes in particular, BRCA1 and BRCA2, that might pose a risk of breast cancer for women. Here are four important facts to understand about these genes.

BRCA1 and BRCA2 Genes Don't Cause Cancer, Mutations Do 

A common misconception is that if you have these two genes, you are highly susceptible to developing breast cancer. The truth is that everyone has the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. They are genes that produce tumor-suppressing proteins and help repair damaged DNA. In essence, they are responsible for ensuring stability in your cells. It's a mutation in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes that is responsible for breast and ovarian cancer (and some other types of cancer too).

If You Have the BRCA1 and BRCA2 Mutation, Your Risk of Cancer Is High

It's not true that every woman who has the gene mutation will develop cancer. However, it is true, that those who have the mutation are exponentially more at risk for developing it. In fact, a 2017 study concluded that 72% of women with the BRCA1 mutation and 69% of women with the inherited BRCA2 mutation would develop breast cancer by the time they are 80 years old. Inheriting these mutations means you have a very high risk of cancer and should take the necessary precautions.

You Can Be Tested For These Gene Mutations

If you have a history of breast cancer in your family, it's strongly recommended that you should be screened for these gene mutations. The procedure is fairly simple. A blood sample will be taken. A lab will perform a DNA analysis of your sample to determine if you carry the mutations. The test isn't performed routinely and is typically only offered to women with a family history of breast cancer or those who already have a specific type of cancer.

If You Have the BRCA1 and BRCA2 Mutations, You Can Take Precautions

If you test positive for the gene mutations, all hope is not lost. There are several steps that can be taken to reduce your risk of cancer once the mutation is discovered. You should undergo a breast exam every six months and a mammogram and MRI every year. There are medications available that can help as well. However, you also have the option to undergo preventative breast cancer treatment. A double mastectomy of healthy breast tissue for those with the mutation has been shown to reduce the risk of cancer by 90%.