Talking About Breast Cancer Risk

Editor’s note: Pending an FDA decision, 23andMe no longer offers new customers access to health reports referred to in this post. Customers who purchased prior to November 22, 2013 will still be able to see their health reports, but those who purchased after that time will not. Those customers will have access to ancestry information as well as access to their uninterpreted raw data.

Angelina Jolie’s revelation in the New York Times today that she had a double mastectomy after learning about her genetic risk for breast cancer focused attention on the difficult dilemma faced by many women in similar circumstances.

Jolie said she decided to write about her case to help other women.

“I chose not to keep my story private because there are many women who do not know that they might be living under the shadow of cancer. It is my hope that they, too, will be able to get gene tested, and that if they have a high risk they, too, will know they have strong options,” she wrote.

The revelation has also prompted some of our customers to ask about what 23andMe reports concerning breast cancer.

First 23andMe’s test is not diagnostic. Our report on BRCA1 and BRCA2 looks at three mutations in those two genes associated with breast cancer. We have another report that looks at eight other mutations in other genes or gene regions including CHEK2, FGFR2, CASP8, STXBP4 and TAB2. The information concerning those mutations help us calculate risk, but also can inform people whether they carry the mutations associated with breast cancer that can be passed onto children.

Finally, we inform customers that the absence of the mutations does not rule out the possibility that they may carry another cancer-causing variation in one of those genes.