Jolie’s announcement shines light on breast cancer

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DEL MAR, Calif. – Angelina Jolie stunned the world in a New York Times Op Ed announcing she had a preventive double mastectomy to reduce her risk of breast cancer.

The academy award winning actress said she opted for the surgery after learning she’s a carrier of an inherited gene mutation called BRCA1.

angelina jolieMedical director for Scripps Radiation Oncology Dr. Ray Lin said nearly 40 percent of those tested positive for BRCA1 have 40 percent chance of getting ovarian cancer.

“According to the National Cancer Institute, there’s also a 60 percent chance of developing breast cancer,” Dr. Lin said.

Diane Zeps discovered she was a carrier of the BRCA1 gene by accident.  She opted for the double mastectomy and hysterectomy a year ago.

“There was some crying…especially before I went under for the hysterectomy” said Zeps. “My first concern was the ovarian cancer, because that so hard to detect. For me it took out the worry – the chance of me getting breast cancer is less than 5 percent.”

BRCA1 & 2 are cancer susceptibility genes. Actually less than one percent of women in the United States are carriers – usually inherited from the mother – but not always.

“My mother had cancer,” said Zeps. “She tested negative. It was from my father.”

“We recommend the test if there are two first degree relatives – mother, sister and daughter who had breast cancer,” he said. “I don’t think it’s something everyone should be worried about, but if there is extensive family history of breast or ovarian cancer it may be a good idea.”

A simple blood test will tell if you’re carrying the gene, but it’s not something everyone needs to get, Dr. Lin said.

Dr. Paul Chasen of Del Mar performed Zeps’ reconstructive surgery.

“She’s the poster child for this. She already had her kids and she’s in her mid-30s,” Chasen said.

Mastectomy no longer means scars and disfigurement, he added.

“The techniques in plastic surgery have improved to the point that really sometimes you can’t tell the difference between mastectomy and breast augmentation,” he said.


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