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Angelina Jolie had both breasts removed. Most people do this if diagnosed with breast cancer. But she did it to prevent breast cancer after testing positive for a BRCA gene mutation.

BRCA is a breast cancer susceptibility gene. Normally, it prevents uncontrolled cell growth which can become cancer. All women and men carry the gene. The problem occurs when the gene mutates, or changes in a harmful way. Harmful BRCA gene mutations have been linked to increases in breast and ovarian cancers, which often occur at an early age.

BRCA mutations can also increase a woman’s risk of cervical, uterine, pancreatic, colon, stomach, gall bladder, and bile duct cancers, and can increase risk of melanoma.

In men, BRCA mutations increase risk of breast, pancreatic, testicular, and prostate cancers.

BRCA mutations are more common in those of Ashkenazi Jewish descent.

They’re also more common in those with a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer.

But just because these genetic mutations can be inherited, doesn’t mean everyone in the family has them.

And if you do have the harmful gene mutation, it doesn’t mean you’ll definitely geht cancer. But you are at higher risk.

A blood test can determine if you have a mutated gene, but testing can be very expensive, and it's not always covered by insurance. Talk to your doctor. Genetic counseling can help you decide if you should be tested.