When is genetic testing an option for identifying breast cancer? - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

When is genetic testing an option for identifying breast cancer?

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Oscar-winning actress Angelina Jolie is revealing she had a voluntary double mastectomy. She said she had the procedure after discovering she has a gene that greatly increases her risk of getting breast cancer. 

Many are calling Angelina Jolie's decision to make her decision of dealing with -- a high risk of getting breast cancer a brave move. So how did Jolie know she fell into a high risk breast cancer category? It is part of a new genetic test that can be done, even in Raleigh County.

Women with mutations in the genes BRCA1 or BRCA2 are 80-90% likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer, that's according to Dr. David Shimm out of the Raleigh Regional Cancer Center. But only a small amount of women actually have the mutation. So how do you know if the test is right for you? Dr. Shimm showed us a website that might help you identify red flags.

"It will ask you a number of questions #1 does the woman have a medical history of any breast cancer," Dr Shimm said.  He was showing our crews a tool on the National Cancer Society's website.  It is called the Breast Cancer Risk assessment tool.  Dr. Shimm points out this website is just a tool, are not a diagnosis.  The tool calculates women's risk of getting breast cancer over the age of 35. 59 News Reporter Lauren Hensley is a little young for the calculator so she used her mom's medical history to fill out the questionnaire.

"So how many of the woman's first degree relatives have had a forum of breast cancer," Dr. Shimm asked, based on the instructions on the web site. After 7 questions based on family history and medical passed, we had our results.

"Her lifetime risk is about 7%. The average woman is about 10%, under average, Dr. Shimm said.

59 News Reporter Lauren Hensley wanted to know what would happen if they answered the questions different.  So Dr. Shimm filled out another survey based on different medical history.

"Let's say she has a relative with breast cancer," Dr. Shimm said, changing several answers in the survey.  After hitting the bottom to calculate, the new information really bumped this hypothetical woman's risk way up.

"This hypothetical woman has nearly 1 in 4 chance developing breast cancer over the course of a lifetime," Dr Shimm said.

Though our fictitious woman did have a higher risk, Dr. Shimm would still advise any patient speak with their doctor before undergoing an aggressive surgery like Jolie.

Dr. Shimm said the genetic testing is a relative new technology and for the most part he deals with patients who have already been diagnosed with cancer. He said he usually orders a preventative genetic test roughly once a month.

Dr. Shimm explains the amount of woman who actually has the gene leading to higher risks of breast cancer is extremely though and unless certain risk factors are met, the genetic test is not recommended for everyone.