More women asking for genetic testing; health officials call it the ‘Angelina Jolie effect’

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SEATTLE — Actress Angelina Jolie is going public about a recent health scare and the drastic move she took to fight the odds.

In a New York Times Op-ed column, the actress announced she recently underwent preventative surgery for ovarian cancer.

Two years ago, the actress revealed she had a double mastectomy to prevent breast cancer.

Now she’s admitted to having a complex surgery that removed her ovaries and Fallopian tubes. She says a recent test came back negative for a tumor, but there was still a chance of early-stage cancer.

Doctors say Jolie’s decision is reasonable in her situation, but it’s not for most women.

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Sherrie Seefeld, who found herself in a similar position to Jolie, said it was one of the hardest decisions of her life.

“I just didn’t think my odds were that good,” Seefeld said.

Seefeld is a breast cancer survivor who recently had drastic surgery to remove her ovaries and tubes after learning she had a rare gene mutation known as BRCA. Doctors told her she had a 50 percent chance of developing ovarian cancer.

“In this case, I am doing this preventatively so it was a much harder choice to do, but it was a perfect choice for me,” Seefeld said.

It is also a choice Jolie made. The 39-year-old actress who also carries the genetic mutation just revealed she underwent the procedure to remove her ovaries and tubes.

“For most women, it’s not something I would recommend,” Dr. Amy Brockmeyer said.

But Brockmeyer, with Virginia Mason, applauds the actress for speaking out.

“This should spark a discussion with your provider, your gynecologist, your primary doctor,” Brockmeyer said.

Doctors say all women with a history of cancer in their families should get genetic counseling.

Genetic testing expert Cathy Goetsch says a simple blood test or a cheek swab could determine if someone has the rare gene mutation.

“One in 800 people will test positive for the gene error,” Goetsch said.

Goetsch says more women than ever are asking for genetic testing.

“It's the Angelina Jolie effect in which we were swamped in the first few weeks after those stories broke,” Goetsch said.

That was two years ago when the actress revealed she had a double mastectomy to prevent breast cancer. The actress revealed then for the first time that she carried the gene mutation that put her at an 87% chance of getting breast cancer.

Now that the starlet has announced a second drastic surgery, Virginia Mason is expecting to get swamped with more requests.

“To me, knowledge is power,” Seefeld said.

Doctors say preventative surgery is typically only recommended for women who carry the gene mutation.

Jolie also emphasized that a positive BRCA test doesn’t mean women should leap to surgery. There are other options, and Jolie says she made the final decision after researching extensively.

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