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Hereditary breast and ovarian cancer

A change in BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes is associated with hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome (HBOC). This causes an increased risk of developing certain cancers that are passed through a family.

The following cancers are associated with HBOC:

  • Breast cancer
  • Male breast cancer
  • Melanoma
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Prostate cancer

BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene changes
Both the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are “tumor suppressor genes” that typically stop cells from growing out of control. When the BRCA 1 or BRCA2 genes are not working, cells in certain parts of the body are more likely to grow. This causes an increased risk to develop certain types of cancer.

Understanding your risk

It is possible for you to have HBOC and never develop cancer because there is not a 100% risk for any cancer.

With appropriate screening and management, many of these cancers can be prevented or detected at an early, treatable stage. Knowledge of these higher cancer risks will help you and your doctors to develop a plan that is right for you.

Risk in the general population

Female breast cancer: 12%

Male breast cancer: .1%

Ovarian cancer: 1.3%

Pancreatic cancer: 1.5%

Prostate cancer: 15%

Melanoma: 2%


Risk with BRCA1 gene change

Female breast cancer: 55-65%

Male breast cancer: 1-2%

Ovarian cancer: 39%

Pancreatic cancer: 1-3%

Prostate cancer: 30%

Risk with BRCA2 gene change

Female breast cancer: 45%

Male breast cancer: 5-10%

Ovarian cancer: 11-17%

Pancreatic cancer: 2-7%

Prostate cancer: <39%

Melanoma: 5%

Living with HBOC

Healthy habits such as maintaining a healthy weight, getting regular exercise, and minimizing alcohol consumption can help minimize your risk of breast cancer.

The information below is referenced from the National Comprehensive Cancer Network guidelines for cancer screening and prevention for women and men. These guidelines change over time, so it is important to continue to talk with your doctors about your cancer-screening options.

For women:

  • Breast self-awareness should start at age 18 and be repeated regularly
  • Clinical breast exams should start at age 25 and be repeated every 6 to12 months
  • Annual breast MRIs should begin at age 25
  • Annual mammograms should begin at age 30
  • Surgery to remove ovaries is an option to consider at 35 to 40 years old, after having kids, is optional.
  • Medications to reduce the risk of breast cancer are optional
  • Surgery to remove breast tissue is optional.

For men:

  • Breast self-awareness should start at age 35
  • Annual clinical breast exams should start at age 35
  • Annual prostate screening should start at age 45

What does this mean for my family?

Family members related by blood may have the same genetic change. If you receive a genetic variant result, we strongly encourage you to share this information with your close blood relatives. Your children and siblings each have a 50 percent chance to have the same genetic change. More distant relatives may also be at risk. Family members related by blood can have genetic testing for the specific gene change that has been identified and can use results to guide their care.

Find a provider

There are doctors throughout the Geisinger footprint who specialize in helping people with BRCA 1 and BRCA2 variants to develop a screening and management plan that is right for them. A few doctors you may consider visiting include:

  • Primary care providers – These providers will manage your overall care.
  • The Geisinger Inherited Risk Breast Clinic – This clinic is designed especially for people with BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic changes to meet with four hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome specialists on the same afternoon. If you have any questions, call our cancer genetics department at 570-214-2637 and ask to speak to a genetic counselor.
  • If you are female, a gynecologic oncologist can discuss removal of your ovaries (after the age of 35 and when you are finished having kids).
  • If you are male, consider meeting with a urologic oncologist. Dr. Heinric Williams, MD, specializes in screening and management for people at increased risk for prostate cancer. His office can be reached at 800-275-6401.


Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered 

1-866-288-7475 |

FORCE is a patient-centered non-profit foundation that supports research, advocacy, and education about HBOC. Local FORCE outreach volunteer, Krystle Goverick, can be reached at or 570-490-9100. Contact Krystle to help identify local resources, in-person support groups, and one-on-one support. 

Bright Pink

312-787-4412 |

This patient-centered non-profit organization that focuses on support and resources for young women at increased risk of breast and ovarian cancers.

BRCA1 and BRCA2: Cancer Risk and Genetic Testing Fact Sheet

This is a basic fact sheet from the National Cancer Institute about BRCA1 and BRCA2-related cancer risks and genetic testing. Go to fact sheet.

Genetics Home Reference, BRCA1 Gene

This is a patient-friendly resource about the BRCA1 gene created by the U.S. National Library of Medicine.