May 21, 2013
Angelina Jolie, love her or not, has bravely told the world in the NY Times that she has had both of her breasts removed in March of this year to reduce her risk of developing breast cancer. Her risk of developing breast cancer is much, much, much higher than 90% of women as she carries a gene called BRCA 1 mutation. Unless you are Ashkenazi Jewish, the chances you have this gene are < 4% and if you are Ashkenazi Jewish, the chance is about 10%. The BRCA 1 mutation runs in families, giving those who carry it about an 80% risk of developing breast cancer and a 40% risk of developing ovarian cancer. For this reason many women who have the gene elect to have their breasts and ovaries removed.
Most women who have the BRCA mutation have a strong family history of breast and ovarian cancer, particularly in their mothers and sisters at a young age. You can find out if you have the BRCA gene mutation by a blood test. The blood test for the BRCA gene is covered in BC if you have a good chance of being a carrier of the gene, meaning you have a strong family history of these cancers. If you do not have this family history, you can privately pay for the blood test through our genetic testing program at Olive, starting in September 2013. The cost is $500 and involves genetic counseling to help people understand what the test means for them, individually.
The National Cancer Institute in the US has a very helpful website addressing BRCA and its risks.
I do not believe everyone should have testing for BRCA. After all, over 90% of us do not carry the gene so are just wasting our money and worrying unnecessarily, but I do think if you are worried, find out. Wouldn't it be nice to have one less thing to worry about? And if you do have it, wouldn't it feel good to know so you can do something about it? Maybe you wouldn't choose to have your breasts removed like Angelina Jolie did, but maybe you'd be sure to do self-breast exams and not miss your mammogram appointment. On that note, if you are a BC resident and 40 years old or older, you can book your own mammogram by calling 1-800-663-9203. It's your health, take care of it.
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