In today’s New York Times, actress and director Angelina Jolie bravely and openly discusses her experience with BRCA genetic testing for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer:
The 37 year old Ms. Jolie – who has not had cancer – underwent genetic testing because of her family history of cancer. She was found to carry a mutation in the BRCA1 gene, which puts her at significant risk of developing breast and ovarian cancers. Ms. Jolie, the mother of 3 adopted and 3 biological children, elected to undergo a risk-reducing double mastectomy, and plans to have her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed soon to lower her risk of developing ovarian cancer.
Ms. Jolie’s story opens a public conversation about the importance of genetic testing in helping to reduce a woman’s risk of developing breast and ovarian cancers. This very personal decision about mastectomy by someone widely regarded as one of the most beautiful women in the movies also helps women recognize that their body image and sexuality does not have to be defined by their breasts. Not every woman will make the decision to have major surgery, but genetic test results can also make sure that your breast cancer screening is appropriate for your level of risk; women who carry a BRCA gene mutation need more intensive breast cancer screening, starting at a younger age, than what is usually recommended for women. Most insurers, including Medicare and Medicaid, cover BRCA testing if you have a sufficient level of risk.
If you have a family history of breast and/or ovarian cancer, talk to your doctor and consider asking for a referral to a genetic counselor to help learn if genetic testing is right for you.
Don’t let your cancer risk control you; genetic testing can help you control your cancer risk.
The Hereditary Cancer Clinic at Swedish provides genetic counseling and genetic testing for healthy women who are concerned about their family history of cancer as well as for cancer patients and their families. You can learn more about the Hereditary Cancer Clinic by clicking here. To learn more about genetic counseling, visit the website of the National Society of Genetic Counselors.