BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) - Angelina Jolie's mother had breast cancer, and she knew she carried the BRCA gene mutation that put her at very high risk. But most women don't need to be tested for it. The mutation of the BRCA gene is uncommon.
Dr. Helen Cappuccino of Roswell Park explained, "We can take a detailed family history from the patient and determine fairly quickly whether or not they're a candidate for testing. We have a high-risk that will see patients that are at increased risk for breast cancer."
Dr. Cappuccino, a breast cancer surgeon, says if a woman does carry the gene that puts her at high risk, she has some choices to make about how to protect herself.
"The simplest way to do this and the least invasive way is with enhanced screening. So not doing anything actually to prevent it from happening, but screening in an aggressive way so that if and when a breast cancer develops, that it's caught early at a treatable stage," Dr. Cappuccino stated.
But most women are more aggressive.
"I would say most women choose to have the preventative surgery. It's a tough decision, but studies have shown - talking to women after they've gone through this procedure - they feel so much better, they sleep better at night, it doesn't completely eliminate the risk, but reduces the risk to the low single digits," Dr. Cappuccino noted.
The next choice is whether to have reconstruction. Dr. Cappuccino knows of one patient who's proud she did that.
Dr. Cappuccino said, "On the front of the t-shirt it says: "Yes, they're fake. My real ones tried to kill me.""
But again, not all women should be tested, even if they have a family history.
"If my sister had the gene, I would definitely have it done. I actually have a significant family history of breast cancer, but not in such a way that predisposes me to carry the gene, so I haven't had the testing done," Dr. Cappuccino said.
The test for the gene can be very expensive. Patients would need to work with their doctors to determine if they are covered by health insurance.
If you'd like information about genetic counseling, genetic testing and cancer risk, call 1-877-ASK-RCPI (1-877-275-7724).
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