Photo c/o the Wall Street Journal
You may have read in the New York Times this morning or seen on the morning shows that Angelina Jolie Pitt, actress, filmmaker, and UN Goodwill Ambassador, is very bravely and publicly sharing her experience of undergoing a bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy (removal of fallopian tubes and ovaries) to prevent ovarian cancer. She published a similar account of her experience in 2013 when she underwent a double mastectomy (removal of breast tissue) to prevent breast cancer and subsequent reconstructive surgery. She has a strong family history of female cancers and is a carrier of the BRCA1 gene, a mutation that increases her odds of having ovarian or breast cancer over her lifetime.
She does a beautiful job describing her path to making this decision, with the help of oncologists, surgeons, and naturopaths, and her resolve to stay cancer free for her children. She is candid about the expected effects of removing her ovaries- surgical menopause at the age of 39- and what she and her ObGyn team are doing to minimize her menopausal symptoms and optimize her health. She also describes some of the physical recovery of the surgeries and the emotional impact of electively going through these significant changes.
Clearly, family history matters. Obviously, not everyone who develops cancer will carry a shared family gene mutation, but it can be used in screening and prevention. There is a very specific set of family history criteria that will indicate whether you should have genetic blood testing to evaluate your personal lifetime risks of developing cancer.
If you’ve ever wondered why Oakland Macomb has you do a written BRCA survey when you join our practice and every year when you come for your annual, this is why. Your health evolves and changes over time, as does that of your parents, siblings, aunts, and children. Any new cancers in your family may indicate that you are at higher risk of developing it yourself, and genetic testing may be recommended.
Always, our goal is to prevent cancer from developing and to keep you healthy.
So, what can you do to be proactive for yourself? First thing, make sure that your annual GYN visit is up to date and that you complete a comprehensive BRCA survey every year. The results of that survey will reveal the possible need for genetic testing.
At Oakland Macomb, we have wonderful providers, Kathy Hoffman, PA-C and Kathy Figurski, CNM, who have been working with patients on cancer prevention through gene analysis for a long time. They are eager to meet with you to address your questions about your own family history of breast, ovarian, or uterine cancer and possible need for genetic testing.
We so much appreciate what Ms. Jolie Pitt is doing. She is proactively pursuing health. She witnessed loved ones go through difficult treatments and her own mother’s death from ovarian cancer, and she is actively choosing to intervene before her health is compromised by cancer. And she cares enough about women to share her journey and encourage others to be proactive with their health, too.
If you have any questions about your personal risk of developing female cancers or your family history of breast, ovarian, or uterine cancer, please contact Kathy Hoffman, PA-C at Oakland Macomb OBGYN today (#248-997-5805).