Updated 12 April 2017

60% of women who get breast cancer gene test don't need it

The study found that more tests are now done on women without breast or ovarian cancer. In 2004, that number was just 24%.

Breast Cancer is the most common cancer in women of all races, with a lifetime risk of one in 29 in South Africa, according to the 2011 National Cancer Registry (NCR).

An increased number of women who don't have breast or ovarian cancer are being tested for BRCA and BRCA2 gene mutations associated with those diseases, a new study shows.

The study was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes significantly increase a woman's risk of breast cancer. These mutations are linked to five to 10% of all breast cancer and about 15% of ovarian cancers, the US National Cancer Institute says.

60% of women tested don't have cancer

The new study found that more than 60% of BRCA tests are done on women without breast or ovarian cancer. In 2004, that number was just 24%.

This increase is likely due to increased marketing of BRCA testing. This may lead women at low risk for BRCA mutations to self-refer for testing, the researchers said.

While the number of low-risk women being tested has increased, BRCA testing is being underused by at-risk women, the study noted.

"Next-generation sequencing technologies are dramatically reducing costs for genetic testing and sequencing. However, current guidelines and practices are not always identifying women who carry BRCA mutations," said lead investigator Dr Fangjian Guo, from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.

BRCA testing still recommended 

BRCA testing strategies that promote equal access and rational use of BRCA testing and also maximise the detection of mutation carriers are needed, Guo said in a school news release.

If women are considered high-risk because of personal or family history of breast or ovarian cancer, BRCA testing would be advisable.

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