Preventative Cancer Surgery

<p>Angelina Jolie</p>

Angelina Jolie

Actress Angelina Jolie's disclosure that she had both of her breasts removed in April in the hopes of preventing breast cancer highlights the painful dilemma facing other women. 

Jolie found out last year that she carries a gene making it extremely likely she would have gotten breast cancer.

But, her condition is not common. It's a defective version of a specific gene called BRCA-1 and BRCA-2, but because the risks for carriers are so high, women with the mutations are advised to have their breasts and ovaries removed as a preventive measure.    

Women with these mutations have about a 65 percent risk of developing breast cancer, as opposed to a risk of about 12 percent for most women.

For some, like Jolie, the risk is even higher.

Jolie authored today's Op-Ed in the New York Times where she explains that she finished three months of surgical procedures to remove both breasts in recent months.

She says she made the choice after her mother died of breast cancer at the age of 56, and after doctors told her she had an 87 percent chance of contracting it herself.

Genetic counselor Sarah Hall at Kadlec Regional Medical Center says everyone has a small risk - about 10 percent - of getting breast cancer in their lifetime.

"Then, there's a small subset that has a very high risk for these cancers, and then there's a middle group where some women get breast cancer, but it's not because of an abnormality in one of those genes.  The bottom line is, if you have questions about how your family history is affecting your risk, and if you should have a test - you should talk to your doctor," said Hall.

Hall also reminds women who have the genetic predispostion to breast cancer and do have mutations, knowing their status can help them make treatment decisions down the road.

And this specific preventative surgery can reduce those women's risk factor to about five percent.

Women who should consider asking a doctor about this type of testing are:

1) Those who have breast cancer before age 50.

2) Those who have a family history of both breast and ovarian cancer.

3) Those who have many close relatives with breast cancer.

It's a good idea for men with any kind of cancer in their families to check with their doctors about the genetic pre-disposition to the disease as well.