WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Actress Angelina Jolie’s decision to have her breasts removed to reduce her risk of breast cancer has raised an important question: Should women with a family history like Jolie follow suit?
Apparently, many women who test positive for the BRCA gene mutation have. When Jolie announced her decision in 2013, the number of women getting the surgery doubled.
Jolie was tested after her mother died from a nearly decade-long battle with breast cancer and ovarian cancer. The actress tested positive for the BRCA gene mutation.
Dr. Michael Nichols, a radiation oncologist at New Hanover Regional Medical Center says so often those surgeries are unnecessary.
“The vast majority of breast cancer is not thought to be genetic,” says Dr. Nichols. “In general, that's 5 to 10 percent. So, in cases where it's not genetic, we know that it’s safe for a female to undergo routine screening mammograms.”
Prophylactic mastectomies can reduce a woman’s chances of getting breast cancer but removing the breasts does not guarantee a woman will not get the disease.
Dr. Nichols says even in cases where there is breast cancer, he encourages women to save their breast if the cancer is found in the early stages.
“That’s been a lot of the medical progress in the past 30 or 40 years--saving the breast,” he says. “Survival is equivalent where we remove the breast or just remove the lump and follow that with radiation. We know with 20-year data from randomized control trials, that removing the breasts does not increase a female’s chance of being cured of their breast cancer compared to saving the breasts."