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Seek Counseling

Shine, a Yahoo! blog, chats with Rebecca Nagy, president of the National Society of Genetic Counselors, about the criteria women should use to determine whether they should be tested for BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 mutations linked to breast and ovarian cancer.

Nagy says that stories like Angelina Jolie's preventative mastectomy can "oversimplify the matter" of genetic testing. Women who hear of Jolie’s story "might rush in for genetic testing even though they are not at risk — while others, fearing that a mastectomy would be the only option if they should test positive for genetic mutations, might become frightened, and avoid it at all costs."

Nagy provides a checklist for women to use to determine whether they should be tested. Further, she emphasizes that women should first meet with a genetic counselor if they do opt for testing. This is a better option than going directly to a doctor, "which is becoming easier and easier to do because of heavy marketing to doctors by companies who offer the test," Shine says.

The advantage of a genetic counselor over a doctor, Nagy said, is that the counselor spends time "talking about what a positive test would mean for you, what a negative test would mean for you, what the impact on your close relatives would be, and also how a positive test might affect your life insurance or health insurance.”