PLEDGE NOW
Here and Now with Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson
Public radio's live
midday news program
With sponsorship from
Mathworks - Accelerating the pace of engineering and science
Accelerating the pace
of engineering and science
Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Who Should Get The Gene Test For Breast Cancer?

Flanked by G8 Foreign Ministers, U.S. actress Angelina Jolie, in her role as UN envoy, talks during a news conference regarding sexual violence against women in conflict, during the G8 Foreign Ministers meeting in London, Thursday, April, 11, 2013. (Alastair Grant/AP)

Flanked by G8 Foreign Ministers, U.S. actress Angelina Jolie, in her role as U.N. envoy, talks during a news conference regarding sexual violence against women in conflict, during the G8 Foreign Ministers meeting in London, Thursday, April, 11, 2013. (Alastair Grant/AP)

Movie star Angela Jolie, 37, who’s also a mother of six and a United Nations special envoy, has gone public about her decision to have a BRCA gene test and undergo a double mastectomy and reconstruction as a preventative measure.

Removal of the breasts for patients who carry a “faulty” BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene greatly reduces the risk for cancer.

Jolie’s op-ed in The New York Times raises questions for all women. How common is the gene mutation? Does having it mean you’ll have cancer? Who should be tested?

“For a BRCA1 or 2 carrier, we anticipate that the risk of them developing a breast cancer falls in the range of 56 to 87 percent.”

– Dr. Judy Boughey

Among those applauding Jolie’s op-ed is 40-year-old breast cancer patient Marla Dansky.  She also has the BRCA gene mutation and will undergo a double mastectomy at Duke University Medical Center, as well as have her ovaries and cervix removed.

“The more people talk about it, and the more people raise awareness about it, the bigger the community of people who are getting taken care of and who are surviving and living long lives,” Dansky told Here & Now’s Robin Young.

Dansky’s younger sister, her mother and her aunts all have been diagnosed with breast cancer. Her mother’s doctors advised her to get a double mastectomy and hysterectomy. Dansky insisted on having mammograms before considering the procedures. In the course of those tests, she discovered she had cancer in her breast and lymph nodes. She then got the BRCA gene test.

“In light of the results that I was BRCA1 positive, I made the decision to go with a double mastectomy and reconstruction,” Dansky said. “Also at that time, [I] was introduced to a separate oncology team that deals with ovaries, Fallopian tubes, cervical issues and also removal of the uterus.”

Dr. Judy Boughey, associate professor of surgery at the Mayo Clinic, says anywhere from one in 500 women to one in 800 women carry mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene.

“For a BRCA1 or 2 carrier, we anticipate that the risk of them developing a breast cancer falls in the range of 56 to 87 percent,” Boughey said. “A double mastectomy decreases your risk of developing breast cancer by about 90 to 95 percent.”

Women referred for genetic testing are ones who have family history of breast cancer or ovarian cancer, Boughey said. The BRCA gene test costs about $4,000 and the majority of insurance companies cover it — if there is a family history.

The Mayo Clinic offers this guidance to women and men:

You might be at increased risk of having a BRCA gene mutation — and a candidate for BRCA gene testing — if you have:

  • A personal history of breast cancer diagnosed at a young age (premenopausal), breast cancer affecting both breasts (bilateral breast cancer), or both breast and ovarian cancers
  • A personal history of ovarian cancer and a close relative with ovarian cancer or premenopausal breast cancer or both
  • A history of breast cancer at a young age in two or more close relatives, such as your parents, siblings and children
  • A male relative with breast cancer
  • A family member who has both breast and ovarian cancers
  • A family member with bilateral breast cancer
  • Two or more relatives with ovarian cancer
  • A relative with a known BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation
  • Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jewish ancestry, with a close relative who has breast or ovarian cancer
  • Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry and a personal history of ovarian cancer

Do you think more women will start getting tested for genes related to breast cancer, as a result of Angelina Jolie’s op-ed? Tell us on our Facebook page or in the comments.

Guests:


Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

May 26 5 Comments

As Lethal Heroin Overdose Numbers Rise, Families Find Solace In Organ Donation

Organ banks around the country have noted an increasing number of organs from donors who have died of overdoses.

May 26 3 Comments

NEADS Assistance Dog Bailey Graduates From Service Dog Training

NEADS provides dogs like Bailey, a yellow Labrador, for deaf and disabled Americans.

May 25 Comment

Celebrating The Class Of 2016: Peace Odiase

Odiase is one of two valedictorians at Fisk University, a historically black college in Nashville, Tennessee.

May 25 8 Comments

NEADS Service Dog Meets His Match

Here & Now has been tracking service dog Bailey, who recently met his new owner, since last year.