Local women face choices similar to Angelina Jolie

Local women face choices similar to Angelina Jolie

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Actress Angelina Jolie announced that she had a double mastectomy after a test revealed she was at high risk for cancer. Three local sisters with a history of cancer faced similar decisions.

Lisa Vingerling and her two young sisters are bound together through sisterly love and a deep family history of cancer.

When Lisa was 30 years old, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

She then had a blood test which determined she had a mutation of the BRCA1 gene linked to hereditary cancer.

"I wanted to do it for my sisters," Vingerling said.

Just as actress Angelina Jolie did, after testing positive for the gene, Lisa decided to have a double mastectomy, reducing her chance of getting cancer from 80 percent to less than 5 percent.

While her middle sister, Evi, was debating whether to have the genetic test, she was diagnosed with cancer. She had a double mastectomy.

Lisa's youngest sister Rose then had the test. It was positive, but showed no signs of cancer. Still, Rose had both healthy breasts removed.

"There is a huge emotional process that's involved with deciding to get the test done," said Vingerling. "When you make that decision to get tested, you have to be ready to act on the results."

Dr. Heather Richardson, a surgeon who specializes in breast cancer surgery at Piedmont Hospital, says the BRCA test is for people with a strong family history of cancer, those who get breast cancer or ovarian cancer at a young age and those of eastern European Jewish heritage. The test can help determine a entire family's risk of getting cancer.

"If a person has breast cancer and they have healthy family members, their family members now have a bit of a crystal ball where they can have a piece of information to decide whether they want to look into their own future," Richardson said.

Lisa say she hopes by Jolie telling her story, it raises awareness to the test and the options people have.

"I was proud of her for putting it out there. Really proud of her for putting it out there because it's such a personal -- such a personal thing and for her to put it out there for the whole world is amazing," said Lisa Vingerling.

That same genetic test also can help determine the risk of ovarian cancer. Many who test positive make the difficult decision to have their ovaries removed.

The test can be taken through a blood test or a cheek swab. Doctors at Piedmont say it can cost between $400 and $4,000, depending on the circumstances.  In most cases, insurance will cover it for high-risk people.

Many hospitals have genetic counselors on staff to help people through the decisions.

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