Family Risk & The Angelina Effect

Posted in Health and Wellbeing 26 Nov 2015

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When actress Angelina Jolie told the world in 2014 that she carried the BRCA1 gene mutation and subsequently had her breasts preventively removed to lessen her risk of breast cancer, the world listened.

The mother-of-six, who is married to fellow Hollywood star Brad Pitt, wrote in the New York Times that doctors had estimated she had an 87 per cent risk of breast cancer and a 50 per cent risk of ovarian cancer due to a faulty hereditary gene. She later went on to have her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed and documented her surgeries in NY Times.

“I decided to be proactive and to minimise the risk as much I could,” Angelina wrote.

Now a doubling in the number of such surgeries at a Manchester breast clinic has been put down to the ‘Angelina Effect’. Research from Queensland health has also highlighted that the number of Queensland women undergoing preventive breast removal surgery has skyrocketed in the past 10 years.

Figures show an 876 per cent increase in the decade since the 2005 financial year for breast surgeries on patients who do not have cancer and have not had a diagnosis.

Pink Hope Founder Krystal Barter says: ‘Angelina’s openness and courage in sharing her experiences has highlighted this incredibly important issue of family history and breast/ovarian cancer. Pink Hope is dedicated to empowering families to assess, understand and take control of their risk. Angelina opened the door for us to put our cause and mission in the spotlight. Saving lives right now, thats what the “Angelina Effect has done for us”.

‘Many more women with a family health history have been encouraged to find support at Pink Hope and know their risk

Family risk

When people are diagnosed or a family member is with breast or ovarian cancer they often wonder whether this means other people in their family will be at greater risk of developing the disease.

In Australia, 5% of women are at risk. 1% at high risk and 4% at moderate risk – so it is important for people to know their risk and speak to their family about their family health history.

In a small number of families, such as Angelina Jolie’s, several closely related people have breast or ovarian cancer diagnoses. This might mean genetic factors are involved. In that case, other family members might also have an increased risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer.

Altered genes

If this is happening in your family you can ask for a referral to a family history clinic to find out whether you have inherited an altered gene that can put you at risk of breast, ovarian and other cancers.

About 5-10% of all breast cancers are caused by an altered gene and up to 22% of ovarian cancers. The most common of these are called BRCA1 and BRCA2.

Going through genetic testing and being given a diagnosis of an altered gene can be daunting. It means having to make serious decisions about risk-reducing treatments as Angelina Jolie has done. And because it is not common you might feel isolated and find it hard to meet other people in a similar situation to share worries and experiences.

We’re here for you

If you’re worried or have questions about this issue, ask our genetic counsellor or get in touch with our programs manager sue@pinkhope.org.au where we can tailor support services for you.

 

xx Pink Hope

 

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