Breast cancer gene: A local woman shares her difficult choice

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Hollywood star Angelina Jolie announced Tuesday that she had a preventive double mastectomy after learning she had a gene that made her prone to breast cancer.

Testing for the same gene Jolie has is also available in Kansas City by using a test kit that collects a DNA sample from the mouth.

Michelle Smoot from Lee's Summit faced a similar situation as Jolie.

"It's very scary in the beginning," Smoot said. "My mother found out she was carrying the same gene shortly before she died. I tested positive about a month after she died."

Between her mother's death and learning she also had the gene, Smoot decided surgery was the answer.

"I had an oophorectomy and a hysterectomy, and two months after that I had a double mastectomy," she said. 

Doctors say it is very important to be prescreened before you get tested because family and individual history need to be considered by professionals to decide if genetic testing is for you. Medical professionals say it's up to the patient to decide whether to have surgery.
"About 30 percent of women like Angelina will go ahead and have their breasts removed," said Jennifer Klemp, with the University of Kansas Medical Center.

The test itself is pretty simple.

"You can sort of swoosh and spit so it's collecting cheek cells by taking a mouth wash and swooshing it around," Klemp explained.

Doctors say removing female organs or the breasts can decrease a woman's chances of developing cancer to less than 10 percent if they have the gene, which is why Smoot decided to do it.

"I have a one to three percent chance of still getting breast cancer, so I am actually lower now than the average person like you," Smoot said.

Doctors say the procedure is not for everyone and urge patients to be very cautious when making these medical decisions.

The initial test can run up $4,000, according to the University of Kansas, but that is usually covered by insurance. The costs are decreased to $400 for the second family member who is tested. 

Men can also do the test.

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