City doctors fear a surge in patients needlessly undergoing genetic screening for breast cancer after actor Angelina Jolie’s revelation on Tuesday that she opted for preventive mastectomy.
Oncologists warned patients against rushing for BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genetic screening and subsequent mastectomies, since only a small proportion of breast cancer is genetically linked.
“We received numerous queries from women who have unnecessarily panicked after reading about the actor’s surgery. Mastectomy is one of the options for a person diagnosed with these mutated genes,” said Dr Rajiv Sarin, director of the Advance Centre for Treatment, Research and Education in Cancer, Navi Mumbai. “In many patients tested positive for the mutated genes, self-breast examination and regular mammography could help detect the cancer early.”
Dr Vinay Deshmane, surgical oncologist, PD Hinduja Hospital, Mahim, said only 7%-8% of cancers could be linked to hereditary disposition. “After reading Jolie’s case, we had a lot of queries about genetic screening. However, only a sub-group of people with family members less than 50 years old and having single or both breast cancers or ovarian cancer are likely to harbour a genetic mutation.”
City doctors said genetic screening in very young girls is not advisable. “I have patients who have undergone preventive mastectomy, but we have not screened their daughters as it is too soon,” said Dr Sanjay Sharma, oncologist, Lilavati Hospital.
At present, few people undergo genetic screening given the high cost of the test, said doctors. Metropolis Laboratory has performed only five such screenings in the last fiscal year.
BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 screening costs about Rs. 30,000-35,000 for each gene, while a mastectomy costs Rs. 1-Rs. 3 lakh in a private hospital. Dr Anil Heroor, oncologist, Fortis Hospital, Mulund said, “While preventive mastectomy gives protection, it does not reduce the risk by 100%. The patient should weigh the pros and cons before deciding.”