ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – Actress Angelina Jolie’s decision to undergo a preventive double mastectomy came after she was genetically tested. So should all women undergo the genetic test?
Washington University and Siteman Cancer Center breast surgeon Dr. Julie Margenthaler says the BRCA gene is quite rare, affecting just one or two in every 1,000 people, but there are some warning signs.
“And those are having multiple family members with breast and/or ovarian cancer, having patients or women in your family who are diagnosed at very young ages,” she explained. “Male breast cancer is actually associated with these mutations and should be a significant red flag.”
Certain other family traits, such as Eastern European Jewish ancestry, can also be associated with a higher risk. In Jolie’s case, her mother died at age 56 from cancer. Her surgery reduced her cancer risk from 87 percent to just five percent.
Margenthaler says a preventive double mastectomy isn’t the only choice for those at risk.
“We can simply monitor them more closely with mammograms and MRIs or there are some drugs, anti-estrogen medications, that we can use to try to reduce their risk to about 50 percent,” she said. “Clearly, the most preventative approach is a prophylactic mastectomy on both sides.”
CBS News medical contributor Dr. Holly Phillips says she hopes Jolie’s act will prompt more women to take breast cancer concerns seriously.
“If only to make sure people go into their doctor and have an annual checkup. Even just getting in, getting screened, being aware of your risks can save lives,” she said.