Some Quick Facts About Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Following Angelina Jolie’s News

Re-blogged from http://ihatebreastcancer.wordpress.com/

   by Katherine O’Brien

Angelina Jolie’s announcement that she is a carrier of the BRCA1 mutation and her subsequent decision to have a preventive double mastectomy has prompted a lot of discussion.

One question Jolie doesn’t touch on: the Supreme Court is currently determining if human genes can be patented. Myriad owns or licenses two human genes linked to breast and ovarian cancer. If you need BRCA1 or BRCA2 testing, as Jolie did, Mryiad has your fate in their hands. The Supreme Court ruling is expected in June 2013. We’ll look at that issue in a separate post.

In the interim, here are some basic facts about breast and ovarian cancer:

      • Most cancer  just happens–it’s sporadic vs. hereditary. The majority of people who develop breast cancer didn’t inherit an abnormal breast cancer gene and have no family history. But about five percent of people have a genetic mutation which predisposes  them to cancer.
      • Two abnormal genes BRCA1 (BReast CAncer gene one) and BRCA2 (BReast CAncer gene two) are associated with a higher lifetime risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer. (FYI, I do NOT have this mutation, my cancer is considered sporadic; I may well have some mutation for which there’s currently no test.)
      • From the NCI FAQ: A woman who inherits a harmful mutation in BRCA1 or BRCA2 has an increased risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer at an early age (before menopause) and often has multiple, close family members who have been diagnosed with these diseases. Harmful BRCA1 mutations may also increase a woman’s risk of developing cervicaluterine,pancreatic, and colon cancer (12). Harmful BRCA2 mutations may additionally increase the risk of pancreatic cancer, stomach cancergallbladder and bile duct cancer, and melanoma(3).
      • All of us have BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes according to  BreastCancer.org: ” The function of the BRCA genes is to repair cell damage and keep breast cells growing normally. But when these genes contain abnormalities or mutations that are passed from generation to generation, the genes don’t function normally and breast cancer risk increases. Abnormal BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes may account for up to 10% of all breast cancers, or 1 out of every 10 cases.”
      • Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jews are 10 times more likely to have mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA 2 genes than the general population. Approximately 2.65 percent of the Ashkenazi Jewish population has a mutation in these genes, while only 0.2 percent of the general population carries these mutations.
      • Note that most U.S. Jews are  Ashkenazi (their ancestors came from Eastern Europe) vs. Sephardic  (their ancestors came from Spain, Portugal, North Africa and the Middle East).
      • Having an abnormal BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene doesn’t mean you will be diagnosed with breast cancer: Only seven percent of breast cancers in Ashkenazi women are caused by alterations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 (See www.genome.gov/10000507.)

Related posts:

Perils of ill-informed celebrity spokespeople (kudos to Jolie):

http://ihatebreastcancer.wordpress.com/2012/11/03/help-wanted-where-is-our-metastatic-breast-cancer-celebrity-spokesperson/

“Sweet Valley High” ghostwriter explores her family’s history of ovarian and breast cancer:

http://ihatebreastcancer.wordpress.com/2012/03/09/hereditary-breast-and-ovarian-cancer-what-slyvia-pody-gail-and-elaine-had/

My experience with BRCA1 and BRCA2 testing:

http://ihatebreastcancer.wordpress.com/2011/04/16/i-didnt-realize-obrien-was-a-japanese-name/

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4 Responses to Some Quick Facts About Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Following Angelina Jolie’s News

  1. MBCNbuzz says:

    In a follow up article in today’s NYTimes Dr. Susan Love comments:”She (AJ) is a special case, and you can completely understand why she did it. But what I hope that people realize is that we really don’t have good prevention for breast cancer. When you have to cut off normal body parts to prevent a disease, that’s really pretty barbaric when you think about it” http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/15/health/angelina-jolies-disclosure-highlights-a-breast-cancer-dilemma.html?hpw&_r=0

    Katherine O’Brien
    Secretary
    http://www.mbcn.org

  2. MBCNbuzz says:

    The MBCN Facebook discussion is also very interesting, with many points of view represented: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Metastatic-Breast-Cancer-Network/168382666514105?fref=ts

  3. MBCNbuzz says:

    Angelina Jolie’s aunt died of breast cancer on Sunday, a hospital spokesman in California said, nearly two weeks after the actress wrote about electing to have a double mastectomy after learning she had inherited a high risk of breast cancer.

    Debbie Martin, the younger sister of Jolie’s mother, died at age 61 at Palomar Medical Center in Escondido, near San Diego.

    Her husband, Ron Martin, told Britain’s Sky News that his wife had the same defective BRCA1 gene as Jolie.

    Jolie’s mother, Marcheline Bertrand, died of ovarian cancer in 2007 at age 56.
    Source: http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/05/27/entertainment-us-angelinajolie-mastectom-idUSBRE94Q02G20130527

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