Inherited risk for breast cancer prompts increase in genetic testing

Angelina Jolie is part of increased awareness on genetic testing

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. – When mega movie star Angelina Jolie went public about testing positive for the BRAC1 gene mutation, it sparked a national conversation and heightened interest on genetic testing.

"If somebody so famous as Angelina Jolie went through it, patients are encouraged to be aggressive and be in charge to do whatever they can to prevent breast cancer from happening," Dr. Adriana Milillo said.

Milillo, a breast medical oncologist at Memorial Healthcare System, said that while genetic testing can be useful, not everyone is a candidate. 

Certain risk factors must be present. These include a patient who has a close blood relative who carries a generic mutation, a male blood relative diagnosed with breast cancer or two family members from the same side of the family with one diagnosed with breast cancer before the age 50.

Milillo's patient, Joanne Levy, met the criteria.

"Cancer runs on both sides of my family," she said. "(There's) breast cancer on my mother's side, and my grandmother and my aunt passed from breast cancer."

In 2015, Levy was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. She had a double mastectomy and is still undergoing treatment. With a family and now a personal history of breast cancer, Milillo recommended that Levy get tested for a gene mutation. 

"We decided together that it would be a good thing to get genetic testing, so I would know the probability of breast cancer coming back for me and me possibly passing it on," Levy said.

"We see the patients in the clinic, and when we capture this condition, we do the appropriate referral for genetic counseling," Milillo said. "We meet after to discuss the results."

From the time blood is drawn and sent to a lab, it can take up to four weeks to receive the results.

"It was scary waiting for the results, but it was important for me to know," Levy said. "Fortunately for me, it came back negative."

The result has given Levy, a wife and mother, renewed strength to keep fighting and eventually win her battle against breast cancer. 

"I'm very happy to be here," Levy said. "I am very happy that every morning I can get up and open my eyes and see a new day."

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