15 May 2013

Calls to cancer group surge after Jolie revelation

7:22 pm on 15 May 2013

A New Zealand organisation supporting women considering removing their breasts and ovaries to prevent cancer says been inundated with inquiries after it was revealed that Angelina Jolie faced the same decision.

The American actress has undergone a preventive double mastectomy because she had a very high risk of breast cancer.

The 37-year-old wrote in the New York Times on Monday about having her breasts removed after testing positive for the BRCA 1 gene, which significantly increases the risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

Jolie's mother died of breast cancer at age 56 and her doctors estimated that Jolie an 87% risk of breast cancer and 50% risk of ovarian cancer.

The actress said that on 27 April she completed the three months of medical procedures that the mastectomies involved and her chances of developing breast cancer are now down to 5%. She said she intends to have her ovaries removed in the future.

New Zealand foundation The Gift of Knowledge said on Wednesday it was getting up to 22 inquiries in an hour, whereas it would normally get up to 10 in a week.

Nicola Coom, the organisation's founder, said women who test positive for BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 genes face a number of complicated surgeries and have many decisions to make, including what type of reconstruction surgery to have after a mastectomy.

Ms Coom said they also have many questions about the effect of having ovaries removed.

Auckland-based breast surgeon Belinda Scott says Angelina Jolie's article is helping to raise awareness in New Zealand about cancer risks.

Dr Scott said a there is lot of time involved in making the decision to undergo a preventive mastectomy. On average, she said she would spend about three months thinking about and seeing a patient to discuss the pros and cons.

"They have to talk to someone who has had reconstructions and there's a lot of time involved before you make that decision. And Angelina Jolie would've done exactly that."

Dr Scott said most of the patients she sees, who believe they may have the BRCA gene, do not test positive. However, she said women who have strong family histories of breast or ovarian cancer should consider taking the test.

Right decision, says Auckland mum

Aucklander Kirsty Walters tested positive for a BRCA mutation about five years ago and is having a preventive double mastectomy on Monday.

She said like Angelina Jolie, she didn't want to worry about whether she would be around to watch her children grow up.

"Just because you have the gene mutation doesn't mean you're going to get cancer, it's not a death sentence. But you can't help but think that - and I didn't want to be thinking that.

"I definitely wanted to see my children grow up. My youngest is turning two tomorrow, so it's taken me five years to get to this point, but I'm 100 percent sure I've made the right decision."

Ms Walters said preventive surgery can be seen as drastic by many, but Jolie's article may change that.