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Jolie's news prompts calls to doctors

| Sunday, May 19, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Actress Angelina Jolie's revelation last week that she had a preventive double mastectomy has struck a nerve with women, many of whom have called doctors to ask about their breast-cancer risk.

Jolie, 37, carries a genetic mutation that increases her risk of breast and ovarian cancer. Her mother died of ovarian cancer at age 56.

Staff at the University of Kansas Cancer Center fielded 50 calls about genetic testing in the 24 hours after Jolie's announcement, five times the usual number in a week, says genetic counselor Jennifer Klemp. Other hospitals contacted by USA Today also reported dozens of calls.

Calls to FORCE, an advocacy group for women with these genetic mutations, quadrupled within 36 hours.

Jolie's announcement was a reminder for women and doctors to look carefully at patients' family histories, says Beth Peshkin, a genetic counselor at Georgetown University's Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“The fact that she took this step is really, really important,” Peshkin says.

But Fran Visco, president of the National Breast Cancer Coalition, notes that women shouldn't rush to be screened. Only one in 500 women carries these mutations, which cause 5 percent to 10 percent of all breast cancers.

Visco says Jolie's story illustrates how little progress has been made against cancer.

“We have invested billions of dollars in science and raising awareness, yet, we have little more than disfiguring and barbaric options to offer women like Ms. Jolie.”

Liz Szabo is a staff writer for USA Today.

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