BRCA genes (pancreatic cancer)

BRCA is a non-modifiable risk factor. You cannot change the genes you inherit. However, you can manage your risk once you are aware of it.

BRCA2 is a gene particularly involved in the development of pancreatic cancer. If you have a family history of cancer, including pancreatic, discuss this with your GP who may suggest gene testing for BRCA. A positive test does not mean you will get pancreatic cancer, it may help you manage your personal risk. The decision to test or not is entirely yours.

What are breast cancer (BRCA 1, BRCA 2) genes?

Genes are sections of DNA inherited from our parents. Everyone has two copies of each gene, one from their father and one from their mother. Everyone is different and small differences in our genes create the differences seen between people.

Genes act as a code to every process in the body. We have hundreds of thousands of genes, each with their own function.

BRCA1 (BReast CAncer 1) and BRCA2 (BReast CAncer 2) are tumour suppressor genes. Every human has these genes. They prevent cells growing and dividing too rapidly. If these genes are not functional in some way (mutated) then cells can grow out of control, this can lead to cancer.

What does it mean to have the BRCA gene mutation?

A mutation to this gene does not mean you will develop cancer. However, it does mean that your cells ability to repair any DNA damage may be affected by the BRAC 1 and BRAC 2 mutation, therefore you are more likely to develop certain cancers.

Why is this important in pancreatic cancer?

BRCA genes mutations are best known for their role in breast and ovarian cancer. However, mutations in these genes are also linked to increased chance of pancreatic cancer.

BRCA1 and BRCA2 have similar roles but are different genes. BRCA2 is more associated with the risk of pancreatic cancer. Therefore, BRCA2 is the gene most concerned with hereditary pancreatic cancer.

What should you do if you’re worried cancer runs in your family?

Discuss this with your GP, this will involve talking about what members of your family have had cancer, what type they had, and what age they were when they were diagnosed.

If your GP thinks it could be helpful, they may suggest predictive gene testing. Currently there is no specific genetic test for pancreatic cancer, as all of the genes that increase the chance of developing pancreatic cancer have not been discovered yet. Many genes may be involved. You may be tested for BRCA1/2 and other genes associated with increased risk.

Predictive gene testing involves two steps. First, your relative who has cancer/ had cancer will need to have a blood test to reveal if they have a gene mutation. Then, you will need to have a blood test to see if you have the same mutation.

If you are eligible, having the test is a personal decision. If you are not eligible you can have private testing. However, the likelihood of you having the BRCA genes if cancer does not seem to run in your family, is very small and the test can also be expensive.

             Advantages of testing          Disadvantages of testing
·         You may be able to find out if your personal risk is high and make changes to your lifestyle to reduce it.

·         Knowing the result may reduce your anxiety.

·         The test could be inconclusive (not give any useful information).

·         You may suffer from worry or anxiety about yourself and family members.

What does a positive test mean?

If your predictive test is positive, this means you have a gene mutation and increased risk of cancer. Which gene is affected will be explained to you. You will be encouraged to discuss the result with family members and health care professionals.

Other gene mutations

Research has suggested that there are other gene mutations that increase your chance of having pancreatic cancer. However, this research is still relatively new and there is more to discover. As it has been shown that certain gene mutations are involved in pancreatic cancer the more research done in this area the more we can understand and test for pancreatic cancer. This could potentially help earlier diagnosis.

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Information Product № Published 15/10/2019
Last Updated 14/09/2021 Next Review Due 15/10/2022