Free genetic testing will be available for Australians with a high risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer from November 1. This is thanks to a decision by the Medical Services Advisory Committee to list the test on the Medicare Benefits Schedule.
Currently, the test costs anywhere between $600 and $2000.
"It is a huge milestone and will significantly improve the lives of Australians, offering more choice via access to affordable screening and treatment options," Melody Caramins from the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia told the ABC.
"For patients with cancer, it will change their management and treatment."
Testing for the BRCA gene came into the spotlight when actor Angelina Jolie revealed she had a double mastectomy after discovering she carried the genetic mutation. BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations significantly increase a woman’s chances of developing breast and ovarian cancer.
According to the National Cancer Institute, around 12 percent of women will develop breast cancer sometime during their lives. By contrast, 55 to 65 percent of women who inherit a harmful BRCA1 mutation and around 45 percent of women who inherit a harmful BRCA2 mutation will develop breast cancer by the time the turn 70.
Experts say the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations are relatively rare, so testing for them only usually occurs when the person's family history suggests it might be present.
These factors associated with a higher risk of carrying the mutation include:
- Breast cancer diagnosed before age 50 years
- Cancer in both breasts in the same woman
- Both breast and ovarian cancers in either the same woman or the same family
- Multiple breast cancers
- Two or more primary types of BRCA1- or BRCA2-related cancers in a single family member
- Cases of male breast cancer
- Ashkenazi Jewish ethnicity
If your test results return positive for the mutation, the options of managing your cancer risk include enhanced screening, prophylactic (risk-reducing) surgery, and chemoprevention.