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Angelina Jolie's recent cancer scare shows the importance of family history
Angelina Jolie said that her family gave her clarity about taking preventative measures against cancer. That clarity may also help American women with genetic testing. - photo by Herb Scribner
Earlier this week, actress Angelina Jolie wrote an op-ed for The New York Times where she revealed her plans to get her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to prevent cancer.

The surgery effectively forces her body into menopause and leaves her unable to have children, she wrote but it also gives her peace that she will be alive to see her family grow.

I went through what I imagine thousands of other women have felt. I told myself to stay calm, to be strong, and that I had no reason to think I wouldnt live to see my children grow up and to meet my grandchildren, Jolie wrote for The Times. The beautiful thing about such moments in life is that there is so much clarity. You know what you live for and what matters. It is polarizing, and it is peaceful.

Two weeks ago Jolie's doctor told her she had "a number of inflammatory markers that are elevated" in her blood that could lead to ovarian cancer. Her doctor advised her to see a specialist immediately, who told her she was in the clear.

But, despite the positive results from the PET/CT scan, she still decided to move forward with her plans to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes.

It is not easy to make these decisions, Jolie wrote for The Times. But it is possible to take control and tackle head-on any health issue. You can seek advice, learn about the options and make choices that are right for you. Knowledge is power.

Jolie first sought information on genetic testing two years ago, when she wrote a similar opinion piece about her decision to get a double mastectomy to prevent breast cancer. Her decision came after she found she had the mutated and inherited BRCA1 gene from her mother, who died of cancer.

Jolies pair of opinion pieces for the Times may be inspiration for some women to get genetic testing based on their own family's history or take more drastic steps towards prevention (some call this The Jolie Effect), but that may not be the best option for all women.

Time magazines H. Gilbert Welch said Jolie's mutated BRCA1 gene was unique to her and her family and isn't a common medical issue.

According to the National Cancer Institute, the mutated version of the BRCA1 gene is commonly found in families who have a history of breast and ovarian cancer, male breast cancer, or are of Ashkenazi Jewish ethnicity. Mutated BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes account for 5 to 10 percent of all breast cancers, and 15 percent of all ovarian cancers, according to NCI.

But CNNs Elizabeth Cohen said women can learn about how to use their own family history to find out what medical issues they might be suffering from, regardless of whether its the BRCA gene mutation or not.

Cohen wrote that women should embrace genetic testing so they can see what potential mutations and medical issues their own children might have.

Cohen suggests women find a genetic counselor who can help them learn about their own family history of breast cancer and other medical issues. This can help women determine which specific cancers they need to get genetic testing for, Cohen wrote.

Don't get tested just because you're curious about your genes, Cohen wrote for CNN. That can lead you down a rabbit hole, because sometimes these tests come up with results that are inconclusive or meaningless and you'll spend the rest of your life worrying about them.
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