By Dr. Sharon Seibel and Dr. Mache Seibel
Angelina Jolie’s decision to undergo a prophylactic double mastectomy to limit her genetic risk for breast cancer demonstrated a lot of courage. It also demonstrates that genetic testing is a real part of disease prevention. But though the discussion she has prompted is helpful, it is not going far enough.
Although the “BRCA” type of gene she inherited is named for BReast CAncer, mutations in those genes also affect other organs, particularly the ovaries. Your lifetime risk for ovarian cancer increases from about 1.5% to Jolie’s estimated risk of about 50%.
But nobody is talking about the increased risk of other cancers that BRCA mutations cause, such as the “silent killer,” pancreatic cancer.
They should. Sharon, who is BRCA2-positive, was diagnosed with it a year ago, and we believe more BRCA-positive women can — and should — be screened for pancreatic cancer.
This differing opinion means many women are not being given the option to be screened for a silent killer.
Sharon has a strong family history for ovarian cancer: Her great grandmother, grandmother and aunt died young from it. Sharon grew up with the belief that she would suffer a similar fate.
Until she read an article over ten years ago discussing the BRCA1 and 2 genes. It was the first study reporting that women with BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes could reduce their risk of breast and ovary cancer by 75% by having their tubes and ovaries removed. We arranged for genetic testing, and Sharon tested positive for BRCA2.
While the positive results brought on a sinking feeling initially, relief followed, because there was something that could be done to potentially alter destiny and avoid ovarian cancer. A month later, Sharon underwent surgery to have her tubes and ovaries removed. Continue reading