Angelina Jolie's Double Mastectomy

ABC's Dr. Richard Besser discusses preventive double mastectomies.
5:07 | 05/14/13

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Transcript for Angelina Jolie's Double Mastectomy
Angelina Jolie revealed this morning in a moving New York Times op Ed titled my medical choice that she's had a double mastectomy by choice. To prevent getting the breast cancer that killed her mother. We're here to tell us more about this is ABC news chief health and medical editor doctor Richard best conduct investor thank you -- with us today because. This obviously -- certainly -- lot of people's attention knowledge of breast cancer but also the possibility anyone ever sees the possibility of having a prevention for it. It always -- lot of interest now Angelina -- -- the she made the decision after learning she had an 87%. Chance of developing breast cancer her mother died of cancer and what is the test that she had done an orchard term us. So this is something called bracket gene testing from our bodies have have mechanisms for. Detecting cancers early and destroying them. And one of those is it is a protein that's made by gene called Brackett back one of bracket to me if that's defective. Then these early cancers in your body you're you're not able to go out and destroy them and so people who have a mutation -- that -- In one of those genes have a much higher risk of a number of cancers breast cancer and ovarian cancer for for women. Prostate cancer and breast cancer for ferment and we're talking about this she said that she had an 87% chance of developing -- you were. -- -- destroy that there is a range there is -- for for breast cancer the numbers that are quoted are fifty to 85%. In general. And and for ovarian cancer it's got fifteen to 40%. But those are very high rates of cancer and the reason we don't know for sure is that every little gene mutation could be different. And the risk their depending on mutation may may -- so who should get this test well you know. If you just screen women in general one in the thousand would have this so it's not very common at all to you look for risk factors so if if someone in your family had breast cancer at a young age if they have what's called triple negative disease. If a man in the family had breast cancer. Those can be signs that you're at increased risk for having this mutation and you should talk to doctor -- Getting genetic counseling in and going through with with this test if if you -- -- have that done. It's not recommended a screening of the general population it cost about 3000 dollars suited to do that test. And if you don't have someone in your family who had this the chances are pretty low there's certain populations Ashkenazi Jews there are one group. That has about a 2% chance of this as opposed to. You know one in the thousand in the general population and only enforcing financial constraints can always factor into making these kinds of decisions is just testing covered by insurance well -- it is by some and there you need to look at your your own insurance plan. -- you doctors recommending this because of risk factors in your family I think you might have a hard time finding insurance companies that would do this just as a routine screen. Without some reasons -- suggests that you're an increased risk so what are the options and once you do have this test performed -- it shows that you do have this well you know then you're faced with some decisions and Angelina Jolie decided to have. -- double mastectomy to two. Greatly reduced by 90% the chances that it did she could get breast cancer. Other options are are just too do early screening and that -- -- breast self exams starting age eighteen. -- annual exams by your doctor. Of your breasts starting at age 25 or so. And then getting getting MRI and and and mammograms every every year for every six months -- alternating the two. Those things can can pick it up earlier to develop so that he can be treated at a at a very early stage. That one of the big problems is we don't have a good screening test for ovarian cancer. So -- it's recommended that you do ultrasound and you get up a blood test. -- the -- really haven't shown that that's all that effective at picking it up early. So some doctors recommend. Having ovaries removed after a woman has has. Had all the children that she one wants to have she said she kept the secret until she was ready. To -- it on her own terms and she wanted to obviously be an advocate for other women to be aware of this. Brack who want -- relatively. Unknown that doesn't seem to be a great deal of information or a lot of people that are aware. Of its existence I mean when every you see a celebrity. Going public with something like this. It's a tremendous opportunity to educate women. About breast cancer. You know some people here breast cancer and -- of breast cancers a death sentence 90% of women with breast cancer. Are alive and well five years out it's it's one of those cancers that has one of the highest survival -- it's just that so many women get it. Then it's the number two causes of cancer deaths in women but it's it's very treatable. It's it's something that you you you wanna pick it up and -- it. Properly but this is an opportunity today everyone is talking about breast cancer and women are listening because Angelina Jolie. Opened up with something very personal very personal and the awareness has been raised -- right doctor Richard -- thanks so much for your time in your insight today profession.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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