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Don't Do It Just Because Angelina Jolie Did It

The nonprofit ECRI Institute has released a BRCA testing information guide for patients interested in learning more about the genetic risk of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.

The guide comes in response to the growing concern and questions among women about the information their genes contain about the risk for cancer, after actress Angelina Jolie wrote an op-ed piece discussing her decision to get a double mastectomy as a result of carrying a BRCA1 mutation associated with heightened risk of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. There are reports that Jolie's highly publicized and controversial decision has caused a spike among women asking their physicians for BRCA testing.

"People can get caught up in the headlines, which can lead to quick, uninformed decisions," says Vivian Coates, VP of information services and health technology assessment at ECRI Institute, in a statement. "Many women may find that after talking to their physicians about their risks for the BRCA gene mutation, the best course of action may actually be to do nothing."

Indeed, the US Preventative Services Task Force's 2005 guidelines recommend that women with a history of breast and ovarian cancer be referred for genetic counseling and be evaluated for BRCA testing. For those without a family history of cancer, the USPSTF does not recommend counseling or BRCA testing.

In addition to information about who should be tested, ECRI's guide also includes information on Myriad's BRACAnalysis, highlighting it as the "currently available test." ECRI characterizes BRACAnalysis as "highly accurate" and reimbursed by most insurance companies if the woman meets certain criteria for testing. The institute also mentions that other labs have indicated they will offer testing for BRCA mutations as the US Supreme Court recently ruled that patents on isolated gene sequences are invalid, but ECRI does not offer any details about these new tests.