What is a BRAF genetic test?
A BRAF genetic test looks for a change, known as a mutation, in a gene called BRAF. Genes are the basic units of heredity passed down from your mother and father.
The BRAF gene makes a protein that helps control cell growth. It’s known as an oncogene. An oncogene works like a gas pedal on a car. Normally, an oncogene turns on cell growth as needed. But if you have a BRAF mutation, it’s like the gas pedal is stuck down, and the gene can’t stop cells from growing. Uncontrolled cell growth can lead to cancer.
A BRAF mutation can be inherited from your parents or acquired later in life. Mutations that happen later in life are usually caused by the environment or from a mistake that happens in your body during cell division. Inherited BRAF mutations are very rare, but they can cause serious health problems.
Acquired (also known as somatic) BRAF mutations are much more common. These mutations have been found in about half of all cases of melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer. BRAF mutations are also often found in other disorders and different types of cancer, including cancers of the colon, thyroid, and ovaries. Cancers with a BRAF mutation tend to be more serious than those without the mutation.
Other names: BRAF gene mutation analysis, Melanoma, BRAF V600 mutation, cobas
What is it used for?
The test is most often used to look for a BRAF mutation in patients with melanoma or other BRAF-related cancers. Certain cancer medicines are especially effective in people who have a BRAF mutation. The same medicines are not as effective and sometimes dangerous to people who don’t have the mutation.
BRAF testing may also be used to see if you are at risk for cancer based on family history and/or your own health history.
Why do I need a BRAF genetic test?
You may need BRAF testing if you’ve been diagnosed with melanoma or another type of cancer. Knowing whether you have the mutation can help your provider prescribe the right treatment.
You may also need this test to see if you are at higher risk for getting cancer. Risk factors include a family history of cancer and/or having cancer at an early age. The specific age depends on the type of cancer.
What happens during a BRAF genetic test?
Most BRAF tests are done in a procedure called a tumor biopsy. During a biopsy, a health care provider will take out a small piece of tissue by cutting or scraping the surface of a tumor. If your provider needs to test tumor tissue from inside your body, he or she may use a special needle to withdraw the sample.
Will I need to do anything to prepare for the test?
You usually don’t need any special preparations for a BRAF test.
Are there any risks to the test?
You may have a little bruising or bleeding at the biopsy site. You may also have a little discomfort at the site for a day or two.
What do the results mean?
If you have melanoma or other type of cancer, and the results show you have a BRAF mutation, your provider can prescribe medicines that are designed to target the mutation. These medicines can be more effective than other treatments.
If you have melanoma or other type of cancer, and the results show you don’t have a mutation, your provider will prescribe different types of medicines to treat your cancer.
If you have not been diagnosed with cancer and your results show you have a BRAF genetic mutation, it does not mean you have cancer, but you have a higher risk of cancer. But more frequent cancer screenings, such as a skin exam, can reduce your risk. During a skin exam, a health care provider will carefully look over the skin on your whole body to check for moles and other suspicious growths.
Talk to your provider about other steps you can take to reduce your risk.
Is there anything else I need to know about a BRAF test?
You may hear your provider talk about a V600E mutation. There are different types of BRAF mutations. V600E is the most common type of BRAF mutation.