Imprecise Medicine: BRCA2 Variants of Uncertain Significance (VUS), the Challenges and Benefits to Integrate a Functional Assay Workflow with Clinical Decision Rules

Genes (Basel). 2021 May 20;12(5):780. doi: 10.3390/genes12050780.


Pathological mutations in homology-directed repair (HDR) genes impact both future cancer risk and therapeutic options for patients. HDR is a high-fidelity DNA repair pathway for resolving DNA double-strand breaks throughout the genome. BRCA2 is an essential protein that mediates the loading of RAD51 onto resected DNA breaks, a key step in HDR. Germline mutations in BRCA2 are associated with an increased risk for breast, ovarian, prostate, and pancreatic cancer. Clinical findings of germline or somatic BRCA2 mutations in tumors suggest treatment with platinum agents or PARP inhibitors. However, when genetic analysis reveals a variant of uncertain significance (VUS) in the BRCA2 gene, precision medicine-based decisions become complex. VUS are genetic changes with unknown pathological impact. Current statistics indicate that between 10-20% of BRCA sequencing results are VUS, and of these, more than 50% are missense mutations. Functional assays to determine the pathological outcome of VUS are urgently needed to provide clinical guidance regarding cancer risk and treatment options. In this review, we provide a brief overview of BRCA2 functions in HDR, describe how BRCA2 VUS are currently assessed in the clinic, and how genetic and biochemical functional assays could be integrated into the clinical decision process. We suggest a multi-step workflow composed of robust and accurate functional assays to correctly evaluate the potential pathogenic or benign nature of BRCA2 VUS. Success in this precision medicine endeavor will offer actionable information to patients and their physicians.

Keywords: BRCA2; BRCAness; DNA repair; hereditary breast and ovarian cancer (HBOC); homologous recombination; variants of uncertain significance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • BRCA2 Protein / genetics*
  • BRCA2 Protein / metabolism
  • Clinical Decision-Making / methods*
  • Female
  • Genetic Complementation Test / methods
  • Genetic Testing / methods*
  • Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Syndrome / diagnosis
  • Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Syndrome / genetics*
  • Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Syndrome / therapy
  • Humans
  • Mutation
  • Workflow


  • BRCA2 Protein
  • BRCA2 protein, human