In an opinion piece in the New York Times on Tuesday, May 14th, Angelina Jolie revealed her decision to have a preventive double mastectomy after finding out that she carried the BRCA1 gene, which drastically increases the risk of both breast and ovarian cancer. Jolie, whose mother died of breast cancer at the age of 56, was told by doctors that she had an 87% risk of breast cancer and a 50% risk of ovarian cancer. While only a fraction of breast cancers result from a gene mutation, those who have a BRCA1 defect have about a 65% chance of developing breast cancer — although the specific risk is different for each woman.

Jolie bravely opted for a preventive double mastectomy and breast reconstruction, which she described in the New York Times’ article. While many might have kept this information private, Jolie “wanted to write this to tell other women that the decision to have a mastectomy was not easy. But it is one I am very happy that I made. My chances of developing breast cancer have dropped from 87 percent to under 5 percent,” she wrote. “I can tell my children that they don’t need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer.”

She went on to say that “I choose not to keep my story private because there are many women who do not know that they might be living under the shadow of cancer. It is my hope that they, too, will be able to get gene tested, and that if they have a high risk they, too, will know that they have strong options.”

Zwanger-Pesiri Radiology offers the BRCA Genetic Test for women who are at risk of mutations in two breast cancer susceptibility genes — BRCA1 and BRCA2. Patients complete a risk assessment form for Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer syndrome, and then the BRCA test is performed using the “swish and spit” method (no blood is drawn). The test is appropriate for those who can answer “yes” (for themselves or a close family member) to any of the following questions:

  • Are you of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry with breast or ovarian cancer in your family?
  • Do you or a member of your family have a history of ovarian cancer?
  • Does male breast cancer run in your family?
  • Have you or a family member had breast cancer at 45 years old or younger?
  • Have there been two breast cancer diagnoses in a SINGLE person, with one diagnosis at age 50 or younger?
  • Have there been two breast cancer diagnoses at age 50 or younger on either your mother’s side OR father’s side of the family?
  • Have there been three or more breast cancers diagnosed on either your mother’s side or your father’s side of the family?

 If so, and you would like to discuss having a BRCA test, please call (516)798-4242 ext 2022.

As Jolie wrote in her article, “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.”