GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - Oscar-winning actress Angelina Jolie announced Tuesday that she had a double mastectomy after learning she carried a gene that made it likely she would get breast cancer. But West Michigan experts say preventive breast removal or even testing is not for everyone.
Lacks Cancer Center at Saint Mary's Healthcare is among the area hospitals where women can get tested for the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 gene mutations that could mean a high chance of cancer
The first step is talking to a genetic counselor because even if medical history suggests risk, women may not want to know whether they have the gene.
"Deciding whether or not to be tested can be a very emotional and psychologically demanding thing. There are some people scared to have this type of information and there are some people who really want the information," certified genetic counselor Sarah Keilman said. "So the counseling piece of genetic counseling is helping people come to terms with what it would mean if they tested positive, what it would mean if they tested negative and how they really want to make that decision."
Those who decide to go ahead with the testing will speak with a counselor, who will ask questions about family and medical history, looking for patterns of cancer.
"Trying to discern any information that could be helpful in recommending genetic testing or tell the individual that it doesn't appear their cancers have a hereditary link," Keilman said.
If family history suggests a test for the specific gene mutation, the next stop is a lab where blood will be drawn and then sent to a lab in Utah for testing.
"A pretty simple blood draw like any other blood draw," Keilman explained.
Results come back in two or three weeks and if positive, women face another important question: What to do about it?
"Some women choose to have increased screening, so they will have mammography and breast MRI every year. And they would also consider screening for their ovaries," Keilman said. "Other women will choose to have preventive surgeries. A prophylactic mastectomy or preventively removing your breasts is a very real option."
At the Lacks Cancer Center, the test costs just over $4,000. Keilman said most Michigan insurance companies cover it for women who meet certain criteria. Before the blood work is sent to the lab, the hospital checks with the insurance company and lets women know if they have to pay out of pocket.
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