Most women know the importance of self-exams, mammograms, and other screening methods when it comes to the early detection of breast cancers. Now there’s a new test that can tell women if they’re at risk even before they develop the disease (as one in eight US women do).
Phenogen Sciences, Inc’s BREVAGen DNA test requires a simple cheek swab. It examines seven genetic markers known as SNPs—single nucleotide polymorphisms—and also considers factors such as a woman’s age, her ages at her first period and first live birth, family incidence of breast cancer, lifetime exposure to estrogen, and race and ethnicity.
Results include a five-year and a lifetime risk assessment. While the test doesn’t diagnose breast cancer or tell women if they carry the gene—as BRCA tests do—it can tell a woman her risk of developing certain types of the disease, particularly estrogen-receptor-positive cancers, which make up 50 to 70 percent of all breast cancers.
“The BRCA1 and BRCA2 test is for estrogen-receptor-negative cancers, but more than half of the cancers are estrogen-receptor-positive,” says Dr. Lisa Steffensen, a family physician with Primary Care Associates in Bellevue, who also regularly administers BREVAGen. “This is a wonderful way to screen for a majority of the breast cancers.”
Steffensen adds that women with a high lifetime or five-year risk can work to make preventive changes in diet (she swears by turmeric), exercise, alcohol consumption, and weight. Or they can opt for additional screenings. “Some women may want to have MRIs done, which could catch cancer earlier than a mammogram,” Steffensen says.
BREVAGen can also be helpful for women trying to decide whether to have hormone replacement therapy. “If a woman tests positive, estrogen would be like Miracle-Gro and feed tumor sites, so I wouldn’t recommend it,” Steffensen notes.
Some insurance plans cover the test, and a “patient protection program” limits the out-of-pocket cost to $250 regardless of insurance.