Women considering BRCA gene testing after Jolie's surgery
May 14, 2013 at 5:33 PM CDT - Updated July 11 at 9:31 AM
JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) – Angelina Jolie announced that she recentlyhad a double mastectomy.
The actress says the preventive surgery came after learningshe has a BRCA 1 gene mutation that raised her risk of developing breast cancer.
Jolie’s decision to get tested for the mutation has mademany women wonder if they should, too.
Before they do, a local doctor says there are a number offacts to consider.
“It’s not just a simple well, I’ll just go get that test andsee 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 cancerpatients, and many have raised questions to him about the so-called ‘cancer’gene.
“Usually when people are asking if they have the gene,” hesaid, “what they’re asking about is called a BRCA1 or BRCA2.”
The names BRCA1 and BRCA2 stand for breast cancersusceptibility gene 1 and breast cancer susceptibility gene 2, respectively.
Dr. Cook says both genes act as suppressors because theytend to fight cancer by preventing cells from rapidly reproducing.
“If there’s a mutation in that gene and it loses its abilityto suppress, that’s when the risk goes up for some other malignancies,” Dr.Cook said.
The National Cancer Institute estimates that “a woman whohas inherited a harmful mutation in BRCA1 or BRCA2 is about five times morelikely to develop breast cancer than a woman who does not have such a mutation.”
The NCI also reported that the “likelihood that a breastand/or ovarian cancer is associated with a harmful mutation in BRCA1 or BRCA2is highest in families with a history of multiple cases of breast cancer, casesof both breast and ovarian cancer, one or more family members with two primarycancers…or an Ashkenazi (Central and Easter European) Jewish background.”
Men also reportedly have a higher risk of getting cancer ifa 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 geneticcounselor before getting tested so that they can discuss guidelines and weighfactors like their family’s history with cancer.
“After talking to their health care provider if that makessense for them to have that checked, it certainly is information worth knowing,”he said.
The NCI estimates that less than one percent of women havethis mutation, which makes the costly genetic testing irrelevant for mostpeople. The exam can cost anywhere between several hundred and several thousanddollars, according to Dr. Cook.
He says if a genetic test is recommended by a medicalprofessional, then there can be some benefits whether the results come backnegative or positive.
The NCI says that a “positive test result can bring relieffrom uncertainty and allow people to make informed decisions about theirfuture, including taking steps to reduce their cancer risk” – like AngelinaJolie did by having her breasts removed.
Click here for more information from the National Cancer Institute.