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Genetic Testing for Hereditary Cancer

Learn about genes and cancer, signs of hereditary cancer, genetic counseling, types of genetic tests and what results mean for you and your family.

Prevalence of inherited gene mutations associated with increased cancer risk

Mutations in BRCA1/2 and other genes associated with increased cancer risk can occur in any population; mutations have been found in people of all ethnic backgrounds. People of certain ethnicity are more likely to carry BRCA mutations, but any family can have a mutation.

Experts estimate that, in the general population, one in every 300 to 500 people harbors a BRCA mutation. Mutations are most common in people of Eastern European (Ashkenazi) Jewish descent.  About one in every 40 people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent (2.5% of this population) carries a BRCA mutation. Members of certain other ethnic groups may also be more likely than those in the general population to carry a BRCA mutation. Various factors—such as the number of people with cancer, their relationship to each other, age of onset of cancer, and types of cancer—affect the likelihood of a BRCA mutation within a family. A specialist in cancer genetics can look at your heritage and family history, and help determine the likelihood that your family has a BRCA mutation.

Research on the prevalence of other gene mutations associated with increased cancer risk is ongoing.  A genetics expert can look at your personal and family history of cancer and help you decide what type of genetic testing is right for you.

Updated 12/30/16

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