Angelina Jolie’s Decision: Why it was right for her and why it may be right for you

Recently actress Angelina Jolie revealed in a New York Times op-ed that she had undergone a preventative double mastectomy after she discovered she carried the BRCA1 gene mutation, which significantly raises a woman’s risk of having breast and ovarian cancer. While Jolie’s decision was very brave and was the appropriate one in some cases, it is important to understand the details and risk factors regarding BRCA1 and BRCA2.

We turned to Citrus Valley Health Partners, Dr. Gargi Upadhyaya to shed some light on Angelina’s condition. “Angelina has the BRCA1 mutation and a mother who died of ovarian cancer at the young age of 57; therefore Angelina’s risk was very high for developing breast and ovarian cancer. She decided on a bilateral mastectomy because it significantly reduces her risk for developing breast cancer.”

Dr. Upadhyaya emphasizes the importance of understanding the gene mutation, saying, “Breast Cancer Susceptibility Gene 1 (BRCA1) and Breast Cancer Susceptibility Gene 2 (BRCA2) are both tumor suppressor genes and they prevent “uncontrolled” cell growth. The average lifetime risk for developing breast cancer in the general population is 12%. For women who have the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation the risk jumps to 60%, which is greater than five times the risk of the general population.”

In addition, the actual risk for having the mutation is 1% (1 out of 1,000 women) so not every woman who has breast cancer has the mutation and not every woman who has the mutation will develop breast cancer. “Preventative mastectomies can be the right choice for women who have inherited the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation,” says Dr. Upadhyaya. “But first you must determine whether you have the gene mutation. With the knowledge of risk for developing any type of cancer, individuals can significantly improve their chances of survival by making the right decision for themselves.”

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