Interest in genetic testing grows after Jolie double mastectomy

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The stunning news that actress Angelina Jolie had a double mastectomy to prevent breast cancer is having an impact here in Colorado.

Doctors seeing a spike in questions and interest in the genetic test that led to Jolie’s difficult and drastic decision.

Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers, along with Porter Hospital and University of Colorado Hospital say since Jolie’s announcement, interest in finding out about genetic testing is high.

Some even want to discuss surgery options.

“It has changed things for people, increased our volume,” says Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers genetic counselor Barbara Hamlington, about inquiries to their 20 offices across the metro area.

Jolie has moved from the silver screen to the forefront of people’s minds.

Women call and email about genetic testing to see if they’re at higher risk of breast cancer.

“Only about five percent or so, a small percentage of breast cancer, is related to those two genes. There’s a lot of women who don’t need to be tested. We don’t need to create undue anxiety,” says Dr. Sami Diab, an oncologist with Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers.

People who qualify for genetic testing include in part, women with breast cancer under the age of 45, those with ovarian cancer at any age, and a family member with deleterious BRCA1/BRCA2 mutation.

“It’s been three years,” says Rachel Neumann of Denver, of how long it has been since she had a double mastectomy and hysterectomy.

The 36-year-old qualified for her test because her mom has the gene mutation and survived breast cancer.

“It was really hard at first. Shocked,” she says about the positive test result.

But she knew what she had to do.

“I didn’t want to have this risk that I would think about during times I am going to bed at night. I didn’t want to be worried about some doctor’s appointment I have down the road and what that would be like for my kids,” she says.

“It can be difficult to have these conversations with patients,” says Hamlington.

She helps women like Rachel every day. It’s a job that can be fraught with fear for her patients.

“A woman who doesn’t have breast cancer, it can be scary to talk about prophylactic mastectomy (preventive) and increased breast screening when they don’t even have cancer…A prophylactic mastectomy is not appropriate for every woman with BRCA mutation. As a genetic counselor, I have to support the decision a woman makes,” she says.

Dr. Diab says we can expect to see more and more genetic testing for other types of inherited cancer genes.

He says it’s positive because you can detect cancer early on. But, it can also lead to anxiety, depression and reduced quality of life.

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