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Angelina Jolie’s Mastectomy – Should You Get BRCA Testing?

Teressa Alexander, M.D.
Board-certified OB/GYN with Rush-Copley Medical Group

The news of Angelina Jolie’s double mastectomy has turned women’s attention to breast cancer and genetic testing.  The test Jolie underwent for the genetic breast mutation called BRCA is a simple blood test, but it’s not for everyone. 

BRCA testing is a genetic test that confirms the presence of a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation. BRCA mutations are responsible for the majority of hereditary breast and ovarian cancers.  While a test like this one has the potential to save lives, facts about the BRCA test and undergoing preventative care like a mastectomy can be confusing. 

According to the National Cancer Institutes, the likelihood of a harmful mutation in BRCA1 or BRCA2 is increased with certain family patterns of cancer.  These patterns include the following:

For women who are not of Ashkenazi Jewish descent:

  • two first-degree relatives (mother, daughter, or sister) diagnosed with breast cancer, one of whom was diagnosed at age 50 or younger;
  • three or more first-degree or second-degree (grandmother or aunt) relatives diagnosed with breast cancer regardless of their age at diagnosis;
  • a combination of first- and second-degree relatives diagnosed with breast cancer and ovarian cancer (one cancer type per person);
  • a first-degree relative with cancer diagnosed in both breasts (bilateral breast cancer);
  • a combination of two or more first- or second-degree relatives diagnosed with ovarian cancer regardless of age at diagnosis;
  • a first- or second-degree relative diagnosed with both breast and ovarian cancer regardless of age at diagnosis; and
  • breast cancer diagnosed in a male relative.

For women of Ashkenazi Jewish descent:

  • any first-degree relative diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer; and
  • two second-degree relatives on the same side of the family diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer.

Based on her results and family history, Jolie opted to surgically remove both breasts to reduce her risk of breast cancer.  While a double mastectomy like Jolie’s can greatly reduce the risk of breast cancer in high-risk women, surgery can carry risks too.  It is important that women consult their doctor about testing and preventative treatment – the pros, cons and alternatives.

BRCA Testing at Rush-Copley

All Rush-Copley Medical Group OB/GYN offices and Rush-Copley Medical Center offer BRCA testing.  Rush-Copley OB/GYNs utilize a hereditary cancer risk assessment which is a tool designed to identify a family history that may be associated with an increased risk for potentially harmful mutations in breast cancer susceptibility genes (BRCA1 or BRCA2).  Our physicians and genetic counselors can help you determine the best fit for your medical needs.

Request an Appointment with Dr. Alexander.