FILE - This Feb. 14, 2012 file photo shows US actress and director Angelina Jolie addressing the audience after premiere of her movie, "In the Land of Blood and Honey," in Sarajevo, Bosnia. Jolie says that she has had a preventive double mastectomy after learning she carried a gene that made it extremely likely she would get breast cancer. The Oscar-winning actress and partner to Brad Pitt made the announcement in an op-ed she authored for Tuesday's New York Times under the headline, "My Medical Choice." She writes that between early February and late April she completed three months of surgical procedures to remove both breasts. (AP Photo/Amel Emric, file)
TROY ? The radical elective surgery actress Angelina Jolie underwent to reduce her chances of developing breast cancer is becoming more common, according to one doctor at a local women?s health center. The simple blood test to screen for the higher-risk genetic factors is also available here in the Capital District.
?Right now, this is a program that we just implemented in early April, and because it is in the early stages we?re offering it to any woman who comes in to the Women?s Health Center for a screening mammogram,? said Samaritan Hospital Women?s Health Center manager Regina Fendorak.
?It?s a standardized check-off and it?s designed to screen women who may have an inherited risk," she added.
Once a woman is determined to have an inherited risk, Fendorak said she is then given an option to speak with a medical oncologist.
?After that consultation, if it?s deemed that they are at risk, they?re given the option to go for BRCA testing,? Fendorak said.
One specialist at Samaritan said genetically-caused cancers are relatively rare compared with other forms of the disease.
?Most breast cancers are not genetic,? said Dr. Vanita Singh, medical oncologist at Samaritan Hospital?s Women?s Health center. ?Ninety to 95 percent are caused by environmental and hormonal factors.?
Singh said a small percentage of cases, perhaps 5 to 10 percent, come from a particular genetic anomaly and can be a predictor of much higher rates of the disease.
?If a woman does have one of these genes the risk is quite high.? Singh said. ?They have about a 60 percent chance of getting breast cancer. Some mutations have a risk as high as 85 percent.?
The test is a simple one and requires only a blood draw and a two-week turnaround for lab results. Continued...
The procedure is covered by most insurance companies, Singh said.
While Jolie?s announcement has placed the issue before a general audience, Singh said preventative surgery on otherwise healthy body parts has become a more common option for women.
?I think a lot of women are aware of it, and a lot of women are becoming their own advocates. I do believe it?s been more common,? Singh said. ?For most women who have a fear of cancer, there?s a sense of relief, not having to worry about it.?
Singh said the treatment options for women who test positive for the genetic anomaly are not limited to surgery.
?There is also the option of more frequent testing, often with an MRI rather than a mammogram,? said Singh. ?There are pills that can be used, and there is some there is some evidence that it might reduce the chance of breast cancer.?
Singh acknowledges that there is a deep emotional component to a surgical procedure that removes otherwise healthy tissue from a person.
?There?s no question about it, these are healthy breasts that are being taken out," Singh said. ?We do a lot of hand-holding with the women to make sure they make the right decision for them.?
The recently established program at the hospital?s Women?s Health Center offers risk assessment for hereditary ovarian and breast cancer. The assessment is part of regular screenings for anyone who gets a mammogram.
For information about Samaritan Hospital?s Women?s Health Center, and for resources and information about women?s health issues, call (518) 271-3288.
Charles Sweeney may be reached at 270-1291.