Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Angelina Effect: Will Jolie's Surgery to Prevent Ovarian Cancer Inspire Others?

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Angelina Effect: Will Jolie's Surgery to Prevent Ovarian Cancer Inspire Others?

Article excerpt

Angelina effect: Will Jolie's surgery inspire others?


TORONTO - When Angelina Jolie revealed two years ago that she'd had a double mastectomy to prevent hereditary breast cancer, there was a huge jump in the number of women seeking testing for the genetic mutation that put the actress at risk.

With Jolie's announcement Tuesday that she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to prevent ovarian cancer related to the BRCA genetic mutation, some experts suggested the so-called "Angelina effect" may again spur more women to investigate their own risk for ovarian cancer -- especially those who know they carry the faulty gene.

Jolie, 39, learned two years ago that she carries a defective BRCA1 gene, which significantly elevates the risk for both breast and ovarian cancer. Her mother died of ovarian cancer and her maternal grandmother also had the disease.

BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations -- BRCA stands for breast cancer susceptibility gene -- are most commonly found in women of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, although some northern European populations also have a higher risk of inheriting one of the mutated genes. Carriers are about five times more likely to get breast cancer.

In a New York Times op-ed article, Jolie said that having the genetic anomaly does not mean an automatic "leap to surgery" -- other medical options were possible. But her family history tipped the balance in favour of the operation.

The surgery puts a woman in menopause and Jolie said she's now taking hormones.

Kelly Metcalfe, a researcher at Women's College Hospital in Toronto, said it's strongly recommended that women with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation have their ovaries and fallopian tubes removed at age 35 to 40, or when child-bearing is finished, to prevent ovarian cancer.

While screening programs like mammography can detect breast cancers early, leading to good survival rates, that isn't the case for ovarian cancer, she said.

"We don't have good screening. The majority of ovarian cancers are picked up at a late stage, and at that late stage the survival rates are low," said Metcalfe, noting that only about 45 per cent of women live five years after diagnosis. …

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