Angelina Jolie undergoes double masectomy after BRCA1 test, should you get the test?

CINCINNATI - There was a bombshell out of Hollywood Tuesday as superstar Angelina Jolie revealed she has had a double mastectomy.

If you have a history of breast or ovarian cancer in your family, you know it takes a brave person to get the genetic test, because sometimes it's easier just not to know.  But in the case of Angelina Jolie, the double mastectomy "cut" her risk of breast cancer from 87 percent to under 5 percent, and she says she is coming forward to save lives.

In an Op-ed in the New York Times, Jolie said, "I decided to be proactive and to minimize the risk as much as i could. I made a decision to  have a preventive double mastectomy."

Jolie's mom dying from ovarian cancer when she was only 56 was the impetus for her BRCA1 testing.

9 On Your side talked with Doctor Jaime Lewis, a surgical oncologist at the UC Cancer Institute, about the test.

"A history of multiple family members with breast cancer, family members with breast cancer at a young age, usually prior to menopause," said Dr. Lewis.

Sixty percent of women with a BRCA mutation will develop breast cancer in their lifetime, making it even more important to be proactive.

"Angelina Jolie was very proactive. She had a question; she wondered about her family history because of her mother's diagnosis; she elected to undergo testing. it is probably the most important thing a patient can do to be an advocate for themselves," said Dr. Lewis.

Jolie wrote that she doesn't feel any less of a woman, and said she feels empowered that she made a strong choice that in no way diminishes her femininity.

The BRCA test is easy: It's a blood test or cheek swab, but it can be expensive. The out-of-pocket cost is $3,000. Insurances will cover it if you meet the required criteria.

The National Cancer Institute commends genetic testing if you have:

  • Two first-degree relatives diagnosed with breast cancer, with one of them before age 51. First-degree relatives include your mother or sister
  • Three or more first- or second-degree relatives diagnosed with breast cancer. Second-degree relatives include your grandmother or aunt
  • A combination of first- and second-degree relatives diagnosed with breast cancer or ovarian cancer;
  • A first-degree relative diagnosed with cancer in both breasts
  • A combination of first- or second-degree relatives diagnosed with ovarian cancer
  • A first- or second-degree relative diagnosed with breast and ovarian cancer
  • A male relative diagnosed with breast cancer.

For women of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, who are more likely to carry a specific BRCA2 defect passed from generation to generation, the NCI recommends genetic testing if you have:

  • A first-degree relative diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer
  • Two second-degree relatives on the same side of the family diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer
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