In a New York Times op-ed piece, Angelina Jolie once again opens up about the tough choices she’s had to make since learning she carries a variant in the BRCA1 gene, one of the genes associated with familial breast and ovarian cancer. Two years ago Jolie chose to undergo a bilateral prophylactic mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. This month, she made another decision—to have her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed. Both procedures reduce Jolie’s risk of breast and ovarian cancer dramatically, but they don’t eliminate the risk completely. We described the risk associated with the gene variant Jolie carries in a blog post entitled, Saving Lives Through Genetic Testing and Prophylactic Surgery.
Although Jolie is a good example of how patients and providers can use the results of genetic testing to potentially save lives, keep in mind that genetic testing is not appropriate for every person, nor is every genetic test a good one. The evidence and the science behind many genetic tests are very limited. Combine this with regulatory oversight that is not very robust, and you can see why patients and providers can easily become confused about what test results do and don’t mean, and what to do with the information.
Jolie obviously is equipped with a level of genomic literacy that has enabled her to make informed medical decisions that are right for her and her family. We applaud her for continuing to share her story with the public.
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