Houston woman grateful for Angelina Jolie spreading awareness of breast cancer gene

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by KHOU.com staff

khou.com

Posted on May 14, 2013 at 6:17 PM

Updated Tuesday, May 14 at 6:40 PM

HOUSTON—A Houston woman is among the women across the country who are indentifying with actress Angelina Jolie’s decision to undergo a double mastectomy to prevent breast cancer.

The mega-star wrote an editorial for the New York Times and explained that she has a gene mutation that increases her risk of getting cancer by 87 percent.

Jolie said she had both breasts removed and reconstructed with implants. Her mother was 56 when she lost a decade-long battle with ovarian cancer.

Houston real estate agent Lacy Baird said she’s glad Jolie is sharing her story.

“Good, good news for the cancer world, what great news,” she said. “Fortunately, or unfortunately, it takes somebody like Angelina Jolie to spread awareness.”

Baird, like Jolie, wanted to take control of her health.

“I have breast cancer on my mother’s side of the family, but it has nothing to do with my dad’s side of the family and the gene I carry,” she said.

Like Jolie, Baird was also diagnosed with the BRCA gene, which raised her risk of getting breast cancer to more than 85 percent.  So Baird got a preventive double mastectomy.

“I can’t imagine sitting on a time bomb—the BRCA time bomb,” Baird said. “I couldn’t live that way.”

Baylor Medical College Harris Health Systems Oncologist Julie Nangia said all women have some risk of getting breast cancer.

“If their mother was 80 when they got breast cancer, and there’s many women in the family without cancer, that’s probably not because of a cancer gene like BRCA,” she said.

But if you are one of the 5 to 10 percent who have the BRCA gene, that risk jumps exponentially.

“If her mother was in her 30s and her mother had ovarian cancer, that would make you worry more about a gene,” Nangia said.

Nangia said, just because women are diagnosed with the gene, there is no urgency to take action.  In fact, she encourages patients, especially those younger than 35, to start a family and breast feed their children before having preventive surgery.

Baird had her surgery when she was 42. Her daughter Stella was 2 years old.

“My daughter, all she has is me, she doesn’t have a father, it was a very easy decision for me because I am all she has,” Baird said.

Surgery is not the only option. Nangia said patients, especially older women, often choose to just monitor the gene, by going in for a screening every few months.

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