Women considering BRCA gene testing after Jolie's surgery - KAIT Jonesboro, AR - Region 8 News, weather, sports

Women considering BRCA gene testing after Jolie's surgery

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) – Angelina Jolie announced that she recently had a double mastectomy.

The actress says the preventive surgery came after learning she has a BRCA 1 gene mutation that raised   her risk of developing breast cancer.

Jolie’s decision to get tested for the mutation has made many women wonder if they should, too.

Before they do, a local doctor says there are a number of facts to consider.  

“It’s not just a simple well, I’ll just go get that test and see what it looks like,” said Dr. John Cook, a general surgeon from the St. Bernards Surgical Associates in Jonesboro.

Dr. Cook has years of experience working with cancer patients, and many have raised questions to him about the so-called ‘cancer’ gene.

“Usually when people are asking if they have the gene,” he said, “what they’re asking about is called a BRCA1 or BRCA2.”

The names BRCA1 and BRCA2 stand for breast cancer susceptibility gene 1 and breast cancer susceptibility gene 2, respectively.

Dr. Cook says both genes act as suppressors because they tend to fight cancer by preventing cells from rapidly reproducing.

“If there’s a mutation in that gene and it loses its ability to suppress, that’s when the risk goes up for some other malignancies,” Dr. Cook said.

The National Cancer Institute estimates that “a woman who has inherited a harmful mutation in BRCA1 or BRCA2 is about five times more likely to develop breast cancer than a woman who does not have such a mutation.”

The NCI also reported that the “likelihood that a breast and/or ovarian cancer is associated with a harmful mutation in BRCA1 or BRCA2 is highest in families with a history of multiple cases of breast cancer, cases of both breast and ovarian cancer, one or more family members with two primary cancers…or an Ashkenazi (Central and Easter European) Jewish background.”

Men also reportedly have a higher risk of getting cancer if a mutation is found in either the BRCA1 or BRCA2, according to the NCI.

Genetic tests are available to check for these mutations, but Dr. Cook says people should first consult their doctor or a genetic counselor before getting tested so that they can discuss guidelines and weigh factors like their family’s history with cancer.

“After talking to their health care provider if that makes sense for them to have that checked, it certainly is information worth knowing,” he said.

The NCI estimates that less than one percent of women have this mutation, which makes the costly genetic testing irrelevant for most people. The exam can cost anywhere between several hundred and several thousand dollars, according to Dr. Cook.

He says if a genetic test is recommended by a medical professional, then there can be some benefits whether the results come back negative or positive.

The NCI says that a “positive test result can bring relief from uncertainty and allow people to make informed decisions about their future, including taking steps to reduce their cancer risk” – like Angelina Jolie did by having her breasts removed.

Click here for more information from the National Cancer Institute. 

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