Angelina Jolie’s Decision Opens Eyes to Breast Cancer Risk

The following article was written by Elissa Price, M.D., a specialist in breast imaging at UCSF Medical Center at Mount Zion.

Just this week, the New York Times published an op-ed by Angelina Jolie entitled My Medical Choice on her decision to undergo a double mastectomy after discovering she was a carrier of the “faulty” gene, BRCA1. The gene, which sharply increases a carrier's risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer (an 87 percent chance and 50 percent chance, respectively, for Ms. Jolie), affects each of its female carriers differently.

For Ms. Jolie, the right decision was to undergo a preventative double mastectomy and, soon, a preventative hysterectomy. Though this might not be the right course of action for all women, Ms. Jolie’s experience brought the importance of breast cancer risk, awareness and genetic testing to the forefront. It’s opened up a dialogue that women should be having with their doctors.

At UCSF, we recommend all BRCA carriers get annual breast MRI in addition to annual mammograms. For women at elevated risk for the disease, research has confirmed the effectiveness of MRI for identification of breast cancer in combination with annual screening mammograms.

Earlier detection leads to earlier cancer diagnoses and less invasive treatments, with fewer women having to undergo chemotherapy and radical mastectomy, and, as a result, a higher rate of survival.

Angelina Jolie’s story will open the eyes of many women with possible increased genetic risk factors. Talk to your doctor to see if you should undergo genetic testing.

For more information on breast cancer imaging, please click here.