The Angelina Jolie Effect

On Thursday, May 16, 2013, it came as breaking news on all the major new networks…the news of Angelina Jolie’s recent double mastectomy surgery to help prevent her from developing breast cancer.  Jolie had both breasts surgically removed, and then had a separate surgery to reconstruct both her breasts.

Some time ago, Angelina Jolie tested positive for the BRCA gene, a gene that is associated with a high likelihood of developing both breast and ovarian cancer. Jolie explains her decision on CNN:

“For any woman reading this, I hope it helps you to know you have options. I want to encourage every woman, especially if you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, to seek out the information and medical experts who can help you through this aspect of your life, and to make your own informed choices. I can tell my children that they don’t need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer. “

For women who are at high risk for developing breast cancer (especially those who test positive for the BRCA gene), there are different options to help manage their increased risk of developing breast cancer. One option is to undergo removal of both breasts (mastectomy). Women who choose this option may then elect to have their breasts reconstructed by a plastic surgeon. Modern day breast reconstruction techniques have yielded excellent cosmetic results. Another option, for women who do not want to have their breasts removed, is to undergo very close surveillance of their breasts through physical exam and imaging (e.g. mammograms and breast MRI).

It is important for every woman to know if she needs to be tested for the BRCA gene. A good website to visit to see if you need genetic testing is Myriad Genetics, http://www.myriad.com/patients/heredtiary-cancer-quiz/ . It is also important to talk to your doctor. Keep, in mind, that even if you do not test positive for the BRCA gene, you may still be at increased risk for breast cancer.

Dr. Thomas Bakondy

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