What Angelina Can Teach Us about the BRCA Gene

Dr. Karen Latimer

A friend said to me, "Angelina is a hero for doing this. Here she is, one of the most beautiful women in the world and she had her breasts removed." I agree ... kind of. She is not a hero for having a double mastectomy. She is a hero for talking about it. Make no mistake. She did not have the surgery to be a role model for women with a BRCA gene mutation. She had the surgery to make sure she is around to kiss skinned knees, mend a first broken heart and celebrate her children's milestones – big and small. While she may be a sex symbol, she is a mother first, and like every parent, wants to watch and water her children as they grow. She had the mastectomy because breast cancer can kill, screening methods are not perfect and 85%, for a mom of six, is unacceptable.

So, shouldn't all women be tested?

The quick answer is no. The longer answer is more complicated, but here are some facts to help you decide whether you should discuss being tested with your doctor.
  • 5-10% of breast cancer in the United States is the result of a BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 genetic mutation.
  • BRCA gene analysis is done through a simple blood test
  • Consider testing if you have a personal history of breast cancer when you were younger than 50; a personal or family history of male breast cancer; a personal or family history of breast cancer in both breasts; a personal history of ovarian cancer; a close family member with ovarian cancer; a close family member with breast cancer diagnosed before the age of 46; an Ashkenazi Jewish heritage combined with a family history of breast or ovarian cancer
If any of these apply to you, talk to your doctor. While the test may be simple, the results are often complicated and can have a significant emotional impact on both you and your family. Think carefully about what you would do if you tested positive and know, if you test negative, it does not mean you have no risk for breast cancer. Remember 90-95% of breast cancer in our country does not have a genetic component.

Thank you Angelina for speaking so openly about your decision – one I applaud as a mother. And here we thought you couldn't possibly be more beautiful.

Karen is the founder and family editor for Tips From Town.
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