THE BLOG
24/03/2015 09:23 GMT | Updated 24/05/2015 06:59 BST

Angelina Jolie's Bravery Could Save Lives

Angelina Jolie has today revealed that she has had preventative surgery after finding out she is a carrier of the BRCA1 gene mutation.

Here at Ovarian Cancer Action we applaud Angelina Jolie's decision to announce that she has had her ovaries removed and are anticipating another wave of the 'Angelina Effect', which saw a dramatic increase in the number of women referred for genetic testing after Angelina announced that she had undergone a double mastectomy in 2013.

While all women in the UK have a one in 54 chance of developing ovarian cancer, for those with a mutation in their BRAC1/2 genes, like Angelina Jolie, the risk increases to 1 in 2. If women know they have BRCA gene mutations, they can choose to take action before cancer develops. They can also inform family members, who may decide to take action too. For those already diagnosed, knowing their BRCA status could inform their treatment path.

We believe it's extremely important that women who carry BRCA gene mutations, like Angelina, are made fully aware of all the options that are available to them and we urge anyone who is worried about their risk of ovarian cancer to talk it through with their doctor.

It's important to remember that BRCA gene faults are rare and in most cases are linked to family history and that, thanks to great advances in research we're able to pinpoint when people like Angelina are BRCA carriers and therefore at risk.

Unfortunately, though, our latest report - BRCA1/2 gene testing and ovarian cancer: the UK picture in 2014 - shows that it can depend on where a woman lives as to whether she will be offered BRCA testing at point of diagnosis of ovarian cancer.

We're hoping that Angelina's decision to publicly announce news of her surgery will help us raise awareness of BRCA gene mutations and their impact. Her bravery could save lives.

If you believe that all women diagnosed with ovarian cancer should be automatically BRCA tested, please sign our Right To Know petition and help us to spread the word.

More information about BRCA genes

What are the BRCA genes?

BRCA1 and BRCA2 are genes that prevent cells from growing and dividing too rapidly.

Everyone carries BRAC1 and BRCA2 genes in their DNA.

Having a mutation in either of these genes can increase a woman's risk of both breast and ovarian cancer and a man's risk of developing prostate cancer.

What does it mean for those who carry a faulty gene?

A positive test means that your chance of developing ovarian cancer will be higher than someone who does not have a genetic mutation in these genes.

If you have tested positive for a:

● BRCA1 mutation you will have a 40-60% chance of going on to develop ovarian cancer

● BRCA2 mutation you will have a 10-30% chance of going on to develop ovarian cancer

What is the likelihood of having either of these faulty genes and, for those who do, what's the likelihood of contracting ovarian cancer?

If two or more relatives from the same side of your family have had ovarian cancer under the age of 50 years, or there have been more than one case of ovarian and breast cancer in your family you may have a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer yourself.

This is because you might have inherited a faulty gene known as the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation that creates a greater chance, 35-60%, of developing ovarian cancer.

You can use our online BRCA Risk Tool to assess whether your family history puts you at risk of developing ovarian cancer.

Who is eligible to be tested for these faulty genes?

Currently in order to qualify for BRCA1/2 testing, NICE recommends a likelihood of having inherited the genetic mutation of 10% or over, determined through looking at family history. But studies have indicated that around 50% of women diagnosed with non-mucinous epithelial ovarian cancer have no family history of the disease. If you have a family history and think you may be a BRCA gene mutation carrier, speak to you GP and ask to be referred for genetic testing.