When Angelina Jolie revealed that she had undergone a double mastectomy to avoid breast cancer, my heart went out to her. She has a gene mutation in what’s known as BCRA, which increases her risk of getting breast cancer and ovarian cancer. It must have been an incredibly difficult decision to get the operation, but it’s one that should hopefully help her stick around for Brad and their six kids.
Still, it made me wonder something. Are we as women in danger of passing this gene on to our children? It would be awful for Angelina Jolie to have to go through a double mastectomy and the removal of her ovaries, only to have her own kids go through the same thing when they get older. Of course, three of their children are adopted, but they do have three biological children as well, two of which are girls. It’s entirely possible that this gene mutation was passed down to them, making it so the kids will have an increased risk for cancer as a result.
At some point, it might be a good idea to get tested to see if you have this gene mutation. You should definitely look into testing if you’ve had two or more relatives with breast or ovarian cancer. It’s also a warning sign if anyone in your family had breast or ovarian cancer under age 50. If it turns out that you do have the mutation, it might be necessary to take precautionary steps to prevent cancer, including frequent tests and even procedures like the mastectomy.
Of course, don’t let this worry you too much. Even if you happen to have the mutation, it’s still possible that you won’t pass it down to your children. The effect also varies dramatically from person to person. Some people are only slightly more likely to develop cancer from the mutation, while others are quite a bit more likely. I know it’s something that’s worried me, but fortunately, only 5 to 10% of cancer cases are related to family history. That means you and your children are probably not very likely to have problems with cancer because of genetics.
Source: Do You Need Genetic Testing For Ovarian and Breast Cancer. In Focused On Health. Nathan-Garner, L. (Oct, 2011).