Angelina Jolie Puts Spotlight on Genetic Testing and Ovarian Cancer Risk

BRCA risk
Judy Garber, MD, MPH

Once again Angelina Jolie is making headlines after penning another op-ed in The New York Times. The actress shared she has undergone more cancer preventive surgery – this time prophylactic salpingo-oophorectomy, a procedure to have her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed. Two years ago, she wrote about her decision to have a prophylactic double mastectomy, a surgery to remove both breasts after her positive genetic test for the BRCA1 mutation.

“It is not easy to make these decisions. But it is possible to take control and tackle head-on any health issue,” wrote Jolie. “You can seek advice, learn about the options and make choices that are right for you. Knowledge is power.”

Approximately 5 to 10 percent of any cancer is hereditary. The BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations can increase a woman’s risk of developing breast and ovarian cancers. Jolie’s BRCA1 mutation means she has an 87 percent chance of developing breast cancer and a 50 percent chance of developing ovarian cancer.

“I admire Angelina Jolie for being so public about this, because I think she has given women a vocabulary to speak about this issue,” said Judy Garber, MD, MPH, director of the Center for Cancer Genetics and Prevention at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and one of the leaders of the Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers. “We saw a huge increase in women asking for genetic testing after she wrote her first New York Times story two years ago and it has been persistent. Having her talk openly about having her breasts removed, and now her ovaries, and about menopause – this is a good thing. Genetic testing is not indicated for everyone, and certainly not everyone will be ready to undergo testing at the same time, but the information is meant to empower not to overwhelm women and their families.”

The Dana-Farber Cancer Genetics and Prevention Program offers advanced genetic tests to determine risk, as well as counseling and education, once the results are determined. If you have a question about genetic factors that increase cancer risk, you can ask the Dana-Farber cancer genetics team.

For patients who have undergone preventive mastectomy or bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy (removal of ovaries and fallopian tubes), Dana-Farber’s Sexual Health Program is a resource for patients concerned about sexual health. For more information or to schedule an appointment, please call 617-632-4523.