As reported last week, actress Angelina Jolie decided to have her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to reduce her risk of developing cancer. Her decision has raised awareness and prompted a lot of discussion. NY1's Health Reporter Erin Billups filed the following report on the procedure and who benefits most from it.
Shannon Giuffrida has a history of cancer in her family. Her father died of multiple myeloma, and his sister died from cancer as well.
"My paternal aunt did die of breast cancer. Like, I think it was in her 40s," she said. "Lo and behold, they called me and said I was BRCA 2 positive. So the ovarian."
Doctors found she had the genetic mutation when she underwent a double mastectomy after developing breast cancer.
Like Angelina Jolie and many other women facing the same elevated risk of cancer, she decided to have her ovaries and fallopian tubes completely removed.
"We don't have any effective screening tests that find these cancers when they're early and curable, so our best chance for helping these women to live long and healthy lives is to remove the ovaries and tubes before cancer can even develop," said Dr. Jill Whyte, a gynecologic oncologist with North Shore LIJ.
Without the preventative surgeries, women with the BRCA mutations are 15 to 40 percent more likely to develop cancers that are usually found in advanced stages.
"Treatment of ovarian cancer in these later stages typically involves radical surgery. It involves multiple rounds of chemotherapy. And even though most women will enter into a remission, in most women, the cancer will eventually come back. It's a highly deadly cancer," Whyte said.
The procedure typically is done after a woman has already had her children, but before cancer usually develops.
Giuffrida was born without a uterus but was able to harvest her eggs for a surrogate pregnancy before having her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed. She now has beautiful twin girls.
"They gave me the power to say, 'No, I'm not going to get ovarian cancer.' I can grow old with my husband and watch my children grow up knowing that I'm not going to have to deal with ovarian cancer," she said.
As many discuss Jolie's decision, Whyte said such surgery is neither drastic nor unusual.
"This is a common procedure that OBGYNs perform routinely, and it is almost universally covered by insurance. So I would hate for any person to think that this is something exotic or that's not available," Whyte said.