You’ve probably heard about Angelina Jolie and her “breast cancer gene.” What you may not have heard is that everyone actually has the BReast CAncer (BRCA) gene. What sets Jolie apart—and others like her—is that her BRCA gene has a mutation, or error, that increases breast and ovarian cancer risk.


Image courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

There are actually two breast cancer genes: BRCA1 and BRCA2. Their job is to keep breast, ovarian and certain other cells from growing too quickly. You have two copies of each BRCA gene in every cell in your body. You inherit one copy from your mother and one copy from your father. If your mother or father has a mutation in one of the BRCA genes, they have an increased cancer risk. And they can pass that mutation, and the risk it carries, on to you. (A mutation in these genes also increases the risk of prostate cancer in men.)

Know BRCA, a website launched by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, provides easy-to-understand information about the BRCA genes along with a tool women can use to assess their risk of having inherited a BRCA mutation. To learn more about BRCA or take the assessment, visit KnowBRCA.