Jolie mastectomy brings attention to genetic testing

Madison woman tells her story
Jolie mastectomy brings attention to genetic testing

The revelation that actress Angelina Jolie underwent a double mastectomy might surprise many women, but not cancer survivors and those battling the illness.

Jolie’s underwent the procedure because a genetic test revealed she had higher chances for developing breast cancer.

The end of May is an important milestone in Cathy Helmsing’s life. “I will have ended chemotherapy two years ago this month,” said Helmsing. She was diagnosed with breast cancer two and a half years ago.

Her diagnosis led her to get tested to see if she carried a genetic link to the illness.

“There are other implications other than breast cancer. There’s also a higher risk of gynecological cancers with the mutations,” said Dr. Michael Frontiera, oncologist with Dean Clinic. He said genetic testing costs about $5,000.

The test maps your genetic code and researchers look for a mutation.

“Once you’ve identified the gene in the family then you can test other family members for it,” Frontiera said.

He said there are specific guidelines for getting tested. Not every woman is a candidate, but it’s recommended for women with a strong family history.

“If you have at least two family members with breast cancer or if someone in your family has been diagnosed with breast cancer at a young age,” said Frontiera.

Helmsing underwent a mastectomy, and fortunately doesn’t carry genetic links to breast cancer. She said battling cancer made her a stronger person.

Jolie mastectomy brings attention to genetic testing

“I never had the feeling that it was going to be the end,” she said.

Helmsing hopes her story will inspire other survivors to make the best decisions for them and their family.

“It’s something to not rush into; it is a hard decision,” Frontiera said.

Many insurance plans will cover the genetic testing under some circumstances. Frontiera said it’s best to consult your doctor to see if you are a candidate.