BOSTON (CBS) – Actress Angelina Jolie’s announcement that she opted for a double mastectomy after learning that she had a genetic mutation is putting new focus on testing available to women with a family history of breast cancer.
The BRCA test can tell a woman if she has a gene that makes it more likely she will develop the illness. Still, not all women make the same decisions with that information.
Sherri Spear was only 40 when she decided to have a double mastectomy. It was a decision she came to after learning she tested positive for the BRCA 2 gene mutation, a condition that meant she had an 84 percent chance of developing breast cancer.
“It was really hard, even though I expected it, because my mom had it and my grandma had it. It was hard, my husband actually started to cry,” she recalls.
But in the five years since, Spear has never regretted the decision to remove her breasts. Instead she says, she lives without fear of cancer.
“I don’t worry. I don’t think about it at all.”
The decision is a deeply personal one according to doctors and geneticists. They advise women speak to their doctors before getting the BRCA test.
The test is often covered by insurance, but not always. It costs about $3,000.
Stacy Gagas knew her grandmother and great grandmother had both had breast cancer young , still it was a shock when she was diagnosed at 28.
“I was considering having a double mastectomy and I used the test to sort of decide whether I was going to have that or not,” she told WBZ-TV
Stacy found she was negative for the BRCA gene mutation. She decided against a mastectomy, but will have further testing done to look into the results deeper.
She says she still worries about cancer in her future.
Now a cancer survivor she hopes a focus on testing will make women her age aware of their options.
“I think it’s fantastic that Angelina Jolie came out and told her story,” she says. “I think young people may feel a little more empowered.”