In early 2013, actress Angelina Jolie made international headlines with her decision to have a preventive double mastectomy after she discovered she had a mutation in one of the BRCA genes. In an op-ed, she detailed her journey in order to raise awareness of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer genetic testing and treatment options for women who test positive. This year, a study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology suggested preventive ovarian surgery would reduce the risk of ovarian cancer by 80 percent for those with a mutated BRCA gene.
With the recent media attention, many women may wonder “Do I have a genetic mutation? If so, will I be able to have children?”
Scott & White surgical oncologist Emilia Dauway, MD says having a strong family history of breast cancer doesn’t necessarily mean you will have a mutation in a BRCA gene.
“We want you to be aware of who needs to be tested, but we also want you to understand that if you are selected for testing, you should get tested. It doesn’t mean you are going to have the gene,” says Dr. Dauway.
She also says even if you have the BCRA gene, you are not automatically going to get breast and/or ovarian cancer. Women with the BCRA gene are at a higher risk, but there are options to help prevent the development of breast and ovarian cancer.
According to Scott & White geneticist Maria Blazo, MD, women with a high-risk for breast or ovarian cancer have three options:
- Increased surveillance through early mammography and breast MRI
- Chemoprevention with medications designed to reduce risk of certain cancers
- Risk-reducing surgeries, like mastectomy or complete or partial hysterectomy
“Having a major breast surgery is always a very personal decision that must be carefully considered by a woman and her partner or spouse and the breast surgeon involved,” says Dr. Blazo
Taking precautions doesn’t mean you have to forgo the possibility of growing your family. It’s about knowing when the right time is for you. Dr. Blazo recommends women with BRCA1 or BRCA1 gene mutations consider risk-reducing ovarian surgery (“oophorectomy”) after age 35 or once child-bearing is complete.
Don’t let cancer define you or your family. Get familiar with your family history and seek genetic testing to help you prevent and detect breast and ovarian cancer early.