The Buzz About Angelina Jolie's Decision

Agnesian Cancer Care

There has been considerable buzz in the news media about the recent revelation that actress and activist Angelina Jolie had a prophylactic double mastectomy to prevent breast cancer. According to news reports, Jolie’s mother died of ovarian cancer at age 56, and testing showed that she carries a gene that makes her at high risk of developing breast cancer. Although not identified specifically in the news reports, this testing most likely identified a specific genetic abnormality, called BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations. Several factors are associated with an increased risk for development of breast cancer, including early onset of menstrual periods, few or no children, late age of first child and prolonged use of hormone replacement therapy.

While most risk factors have only a modest impact on overall lifetime risk of developing breast cancer, women with mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 have up to a tenfold increase in risk. According to Michael Jones MD, red flags for hereditary increased risk include a personal history of or close family history of:

  • Ovarian cancer
  • Breast cancer diagnosed before age 50
  • Two primary breast cancers
  • Male breast cancer
  • Triple negative breast cancer
  • Some types of pancreatic cancer
  • Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry
  • Other family members with a BRCA abnormality
The Agnesian Cancer Center has numerous women (and men!) that seek our advice and help obtaining genetic testing to ascertain this risk. In addition to two medical oncologists, the center has two registered nurses that are specifically trained to inform and support patients who are undergoing this testing. Testing is simple, and involves completion of paperwork and obtaining a small blood sample to be sent to a reference lab specializing in genetic testing. This lab will assist patients in obtaining authorization from their insurance carrier to help cover the cost of testing.

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