Some Doctors Concerned Over Angelina Jolie Cancer Effect

Some Doctors Concerned Over Angelina Jolie Cancer Effect

There's no denying that Angelina Jolie made a bold, brave and proactive choice when she decided to undergo a preventative double mastectomy in order to evade her family history of breast cancer. Many have come out applauding her decision, and without taking away from Jolie's actions, some doctors say what the megastar did isn't a viable option for everyone.

Geoff Lindeman, who works in Australia at the Royal Melbourne Hospital as well as the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute breast cancer research ward, says that Jolie's proclamation in her New York Times op-ed was "somewhat of a mixed blessing" to him. 

In an interview with ABC Australia, Lindeman says that "it's always good to have appropriate publicity in this area so that people can be aware, but similarly I think many women must have felt that they had the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads, and that's not necessarily the case for the vast majority of women and even for women who have mutations in the BRCA1 or 2 genes."

Jolie wrote that her odds of getting cancer due to her family history of mutations in the BRCA1 and 2 genes was around 87 percent, a number that Lindeman says isn't a sure-fire bet. According to him, anywhere from 20-30 percent of breast cancers occur because of those mutations, and that hereditary breast cancer makes up for just five percent of all diagnoses. 

"These were genes that were discovered in the mid-1990s that were identified through women who had a very high risk of breast or ovarian cancer running in their families," Lindeman states. "The discovery of these genes really helped us to understand their role in helping keep cancer in check … But having a faulty gene is by no means a guarantee that somebody will get cancer, it just means that their risk is increased, and in a sense they should be managed and look after themselves appropriately."

Genetic counselor Clara Gaff, who works with Lindeman at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, says that the general practice there is to offer a range of getting cancer -- "and the range is between 50 per cent and 80 percent chance of developing breast cancer" given Jolie's situation. 

Gaff said that since Jolie's op-ed, many women have reached out to inquire about similar concerns of family history with breast cancer. That's never a bad thing, though Lindeman does have a bit of concern in once facet. 

"I'd hate women to have the feeling that they need to rush out and make a decision today. The risk can vary for women at different stages in their life if they are a gene carrier."