More women go on the offensive in the fight against breast cancer

Justin Schecker

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More women go on the offensive in the fight against breast cancer

CREATED Oct. 1, 2013

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - 40,000. That's how many American women breast cancer kills every year. And three-quarters of women, don't get the recommended breast cancer screening tests.

But still, survival rates are at an all-time high. Some women with a higher risk are taking precautionary measures to prevent the fight of their lives.

Take glamorous actress and global philanthropist Angelina Jolie. She made headlines by making public, a very personal decision. Jolie asked doctors to remove both her breasts, after learning she has the BRCA-1 genetic mutation that increases the risk for breast cancer. Jolie's mother lost her battle with ovarian cancer when she was only 56.

"The patients we worry about having a gene mutation are those who have multiple people in multiple generations with cancer," said Dr. Michele Ley, the director of Breast Surgical Oncology at the U of A's Cancer Center.

If women find out they have the BRCA mutation, medications reduce the risk by 50 percent and surgery drops that chance by 90 percent. There are various versions of the surgery. Dr. ley describes the operation Jolie had as the most comsetically appealing. Surgeons only removed her breast tissue, sparing the nipples and skin.  

"And that's what we try to do for most patients who are BRCA mutation carriers, or they're high risk or they have very small cancers," Dr. Ley said.

In a New York Times op-ed, Jolie wrote, "the decision to have a mastectomy was not easy, but it is one I am very happy I made. I can tell my children they don't need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer."

"For the patients that have the BRCA mutation, they've usually seen their family members go through cancer and they don't want to have that experience themselves," explain Dr. Ley.

With Jolie sharing her experience of pro-active prevention, Dr. Ley says she hopes more women will feel empowered to take control of their health care.