On Tuesday, actress and activist Angelina Jolie revealed she recently underwent a preventive double mastectomy after learning she was at an increased risk for breast and ovarian cancer.
Jolie wrote about her experience in an op-ed article published today in the New York Times.
Her decision she says, came after she found out she had a mutation on a gene that's supposed to prevent cancer, putting her at a higher risk for the disease.
Though Jolie is an international superstar, this is something women right here in the Tri-State are dealing with as well.
"Both my great grandparents had cancer and went down to grandparents," said east side resident Holly Weinzapfel.
And it kept coming.
Holly's mom died of breast cancer when she was little. Then a cousin was diagnosed at 35.
So five years ago, Holly decided to get tested to see if she had what's called a 'BRCA mutation.'
"It was kind of scary, but in some ways it was actually very liberating to have that information and to actually do something about it," said Weinzapfel.
Doctor Maqbool Ahmed, a hematologist-oncologist at the Deaconess Clinic, says a family history's like Holly's is the most important risk factor to consider.
He explains, BRCA genes are supposed to prevent cancer from forming, but that's not always what happens.
"When you have a mutation from that gene becomes abnormal and it cannot function and therefore it cannot prevent the development of a cancer and people can have a high risk of cancer," said Dr. Ahmed.
Jolie says her breast cancer risk was estimated at 87 percent, about the same staggering statistic that prompted Holly to opt for a preventive double mastectomy.
"For me, I was already 36-37, so I felt like I really needed to make a decision I couldn't wait," said Weinzapfel.
Today, Holly's confident she made the right decision. In fact, she says now she's been told she has a lower risk of developing breast cancer than the average woman.
And she and Dr. Ahmed both, are happy someone so in the spotlight like Jolie-is going public about a very private choice.
"I do hope it raises awareness that there are things that you can do proactively, that you don't have to sit around and wait for cancer to strike," said Weinzapfel.
Dr. Ahmed said, "If they can do it, can have this, go through this treatment which really is a lot for young women, then they can also do the right thing."
Clarify that lower risk for breast cancer, the BRAC mutation can also cause other types of cancer, including ovarian cancer.
Dr. Ahmed points out you can have that test here locally to find out if you have that BRCA mutation-- he says mastectomies are the only thing that has significantly shown to reduce the risk of cancer.
One other thing Holly says it took about four tries to get her insurance to cover her surgery so that can be an issue to consider.
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