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Jolie Shines Light On Genetic Cancer Risk, North Texas Hospitals Test For It

Angelina Jolie hopes to empower women to learn their family histories and explore genetic cancer risk.

North Texas hospitals are already doing the kind of genetic testing Angelina Jolie is bringing to light in a very personal New York Times editorial.

Jolie revealed that she got a double mastectomy earlier this year as a preventative measure. She has a mutation in her BRCA1 gene that makes her breast cancer risk over 80 percent and her chance of ovarian cancer about 50/50.

If you have a family history of early breast or ovarian cancer and are concerned about your risk, consult a genetic counselor. Most major hospitals have several on staff and many won't charge you for the first appointment. To find a genetic counselor near you, click here. To learn more about BRCA mutations and genetic cancer risk, click here.

Genetic Cancer Risk- The Basics

  • What is genetic cancer risk? Cancer happens as a result of changes or mutations in genes that control cell growth. Cells with mutations may begin to grow uncontrollably, forming tumors. Some inherited gene mutations make a cancer more likely to develop. If a parent has a genetic mutation, there is a 50 percent chance it will be passed down to their child. 
  • How do I find out if I am at risk? There are several factors to consider. Cancer before the age of 50, several cases of certain cancers within a family, and tumors occurring in the sex not usually affected (like male breast cancer) are all red flags.
  • How does genetic testing work? Talk to a genetic counselor about whether you are a good candidate. If you are, a blood sample or saliva swab will be submitted to a lab. Depending on your family history, they’ll look for several genetic mutations. If you already know which mutation a primary relative has, they’ll test for that specific genetic change.
Courtney Collins has been working as a broadcast journalist since graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2004. Before coming to KERA in 2011, Courtney worked as a reporter for NPR member station WAMU in Washington D.C. While there she covered daily news and reported for the station’s weekly news magazine, Metro Connection.