The publicity surrounding Jolie’s condition could cause women to worry about their susceptibility and rush to get tested for the same gene mutation Jolie suffers from.
It costs from hundreds to thousands of dollars to test for the mutated genes. But absent a family history of cancer and other signs, testing is most likely unnecessary, according to The National Cancer Institute (NCI).
In Jolie’s case, she chose surgery because of a history of cancer among women in her family and because of the discovery of the aberrant gene, known as BRCA1.
The move follows a decision she made to years ago to undergo a double mastectomy, even though her breasts were healthy.
“[The gene] gave me an estimated 87 percent risk of breast cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer. I lost my mother, grandmother and aunt to cancer,” she wrote in today’s New York Times.
Jolie, 38. wrote that she wanted women to know the options, if they’re in a similar situation.
But the fact is, the gene is present in fewer than one-percent of the nation’s female population, according to a 1996 article in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. The precise figure is 0.04 percent to 0.20 percent of the general population.
The finding is based on a Duke University study by Donald A. Berry, Giovanni Parmigiani and Juana Sanchez. They developed a statistical model to determine the “probability that a woman with a family history of breast and/or ovarian cancer carries a mutation of BRCA1.”
The gene and a related DNA segment known as BRCA2, are important because they produce proteins that suppress tumors, according to the NCI.
The mutations only account for about 5 percent to 10 percent of all breast cancers and around 15 percent of ovarian cancers overall. The defective genes, however, dramatically increase the chances of developing cancer.
About 12 percent of women will develop breast cancer sometime during their lives. In contrast, 55 percent to 65 percent of women who inherit a harmful BRCA1 mutation and around 45 percent of women who inherit a harmful BRCA2 mutation will develop breast cancer by age 70.
The scary part is they cause cancer at a much younger age than normal cases, according to the NCI.
Jolie has the all-important sign pointing to a defective gene, a hereditary history of cancer. Because her mother and two immediate relatives died from the disease at relatively young ages, the odds were stronger that a defective gene was present.
The best course of action is to first determine if you have a hereditary history of cancer among immediate older family members. If so, then the next step is to consult a doctor about options.
About 180,000 new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed each year in the United States and about 4, 000 women die from the disease annually. About 26 000 cases of ovarian cancer are diagnosed each year and 14,000 women die from it annually, according to the Duke study.
It pays to get regular checkups, but rest assured, radical surgeries like Jolie’s will be the rare exception, rather than the rule.
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