The Importance of Genetic Testing for Cancer

Actress Angelina Jolie going public with her fight to prevent breast cancer raised international awareness for women to get tested.

Angelina Jolie fights for many causes, but none more personal than the battle against cancer, which killed her mother, grandmother and aunt.

The 39-year old actress had her breasts, ovaries and Fallopian tubes removed after genetic tests showed a mutation in a gene called BRCA1.

Jolie's decision made sense, says Dr. Mehra Golshan of Boston's Brigham and Women's Cancer Center.

"They have much higher risk of developing breast cancer than average American women," said Golshan. "That risk is about 60 to 80 percent for breast cancer, maybe 20 to 40 percent for ovarian cancer."

Jolie went public with her very private battle in op ed pieces in the new york times… bringing the issue into the headlines, doctor's offices and people's homes.

Mary Powell, the CEO of Green Mountain Power in Vermont, was also inspired to write an op ed in the Burlington Free Press.

Like Jolie, Powell lost loved ones to cancer - her mom, aunts and cousins.

Despite this family history, fear stopped her from getting tested.

Powell's test results showed an abnormality in the NBN gene, which meant an increased chance of getting breast cancer. She had both her breasts removed in February as a preventive measure. But after her surgery, tests proved she had very early stage cancer in both breasts.

She shares her story not to advocate for double mastectomies, but for genetic counseling and making informed decisions.

The latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control show that in 2011, 220,000 women in America were diagnosed with breast cancer. Almost 41,000 died from breast cancer, and more than 90 percent of breast cancer cases have no gene mutation.

Doctors worry too many women are opting for double mastectomies when MRI's and other screening tests maybe just as effective. Breast oncologist Beth Overmoyer of the Dana Farber Cancer Institute also stresses the importance of preventive measures.

Surgery turned out be right for Powell. She feels more empowered in knowing her college-aged daughter, Alex, will not lose her mom, as Powell did, to cancer.

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