Angelina Jolie’s stunning revelation she had a preventative double mastectomy is being hailed by Seattle-area cancer experts, who say the announcement should help raise awareness of such an important issue.
Jolie, 37, wrote an op-ed in The New York Times Tuesday in which she reveals having the procedure after learning she has a gene making it extremely likely she would get breast cancer.
Jolie said her mother’s death from cancer and her own children prompted the heart wrenching decision.
“My mother fought cancer for almost a decade and died at 56,” Jolie wrote. “She held out long enough to meet the first of her grandchildren and to hold them in her arms. But my other children will never have the chance to know her and experience how loving and gracious she was.”
Jolie revealed she was diagnosed with the BRCA1 gene, one of two linked to a significant risk of cancer.
“Women who inherit a mutation in one of these two genes have up to an 80 percent chance of developing breast cancer in their lifetime,” said Dr. Julie Gralow, a specialist at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, in an interview with the Dori Monson Show.
Women with one of the genes like Jolie also have up to a 40 percent increased risk of developing ovarian cancer.
A double mastectomy can reduce the risk of breast cancer by 95 percent. But Gralow said while it’s an option, the preventative measure is not always the recommendation for her patients. Even if the gene is detected, regular mammograms, breast MRI’s, and screening starting at age 25 can often be an acceptable preventative measure.
“By doing these things, we feel we are able to catch the breast cancer early and the patient is unlikely to die from the cancer,” she said.
A test to determine whether a woman has the gene costs about $3,500. Many insurance companies in Washington state will cover not only the screening, but the procedures as well.
“In general, if a mutation has been found, then the risk of cancer is so high that the insurance company will cover usually the surgery to remove the breast as well as the reconstruction,” she said.
While many women will likely rush to get the screening after Jolie’s admission, Gralow cautioned the mutation is extremely rare.
“The majority of women who get breast cancer do not have this inherited mutation. So we really need to sort out who’s at risk and who’s not and then make recommendations based on a personal risk profile,” she said.