Many women unaware of medication for breast cancer prevention

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OVERLAND PARK, Kan. -- Actress Angelina Jolie chose a double mastectomy to lower her chances of breast cancer. Many women are unaware that there is a much less radical option for prevention.

Julie Yakominich's mammogram showed something suspicious.

"It is the most frightening feeling ever because you're thinking you're gonna hear that word," says Yakominich.

A biopsy showed the Lenexa woman didn't have breast cancer, but she did have pre-cancerous cells. That led to an assessment of her personal and family history and genetic testing. She didn't have a breast cancer gene. Still, Yakominich had a 30 percent chance of breast cancer over her lifetime.

Dr. Stephanie Graff of Menorah Medical Center recommended Yakominich take a pill, tamoxifen, to lower her risk.

"What are you gonna be -- stupid -- and not chop your risk in half?" says Yakominich.

But many other women at increased risk are not taking preventive medicine. Dr. Graff says fewer than four percent of the two million women who are candidates take the drugs.

"And that's just such a shame 'cause when you think about the number of women that could avoid surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation," says Dr. Graff.

The oncologist says many women are unaware of the preventive medicines or they're afraid of side effects.

The American Society of Clinical Oncology has new guidelines which strongly recommend that doctors discuss the use of the drugs with women at higher risk of breast cancer.

Dr. Graff says a bilateral mastectomy was right for Jolie since she had a breast cancer gene which gave her an 85 percent chance of breast cancer.

"For a woman who has a 20 or 30 percent lifetime risk of breast cancer. that's a pretty big step. And maybe one of these medication options is more appropriate for them," says Dr. Graff.

Yakominich says she weighed the options.

"Cancer? Taking a pill every day for five years?"  she says.

Yakominich believes she's doing the right thing to lower the chances.

Dr. Graff says since Jolie's announcement, her office has seen a huge increase in women having risk assessments and, for many, genetic testing. She says even if you don't have a family history of breast cancer, talk with your doctor because you may have other factors that put you at higher risk.

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