Angelina Jolie's Breast Surgeon to Discuss Hereditary Cancer on Lifetime

The program will air nearly 3 years after Jolie stunned the country with news that she'd had surgery to remove both breasts after a genetic test revealed she was at very high risk for cancer.

Kristi Funk, MD, who cared for actress Angelina Jolie when she had a double mastectomy after genetic tests revealed a high risk for breast cancer, will appear on television later this month to discuss hereditary cancer.

“Hereditary Cancer Risk Assessment and Testing: the Answer Is in Your DNA,” is being produced by Access Health, an educational program on health and wellness, and Myriad Genetics, a molecular diagnostics company based in Salt Lake City, Utah. Myriad announced Funk’s appearance today.

The program will appear 7:30 a.m. ET on March 30, 2016, and April 6, 2016, on Lifetime, which features programming aimed at women.

Funk, a board-certified breast specialist, founded the Pink Lotus Breast Center in 2007 with her husband and business partner, Andy Funk. After graduating from Stanford and medical school at the University of California at Davis, Funk completed surgical residency at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle, Washington, and a surgical breast residency at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where she later served as director of the Breast Center until 2009. She also pursued a research career with UCLA and Baxter Diagnostics.

Jolie’s essay, “My Medical Choice,” stunned the country when it appeared in The New York Times on May 14, 2013. In the essay, the actress announced that she had undergone surgery to remove both breasts after genetic testing revealed she carried the BRCA1 gene, and physicians estimated she had an 87% chance of developing breast cancer and a 50% chance of developing ovarian cancer. Jolie’s own mother had died of cancer at 56 after battling the disease for nearly a decade, and her grandmother and aunt had it as well. Two years later, Jolie revealed that she had additional surgery to remove her ovaries.

News coverage of Jolie’s surgery, followed a month later by a US Supreme Court ruling against Myriad over its patents on BRCA tests, created a groundswell of interest in genetic testing among women. Some payers moved to require genetic counseling before genetic testing is ordered, with support from the American Cancer Society.

Not everyone supports limiting access to testing. In September 2014, Mary-Claire King, PhD, published a controversial essay in JAMA calling for every woman to be tested for BRCA1 and BRCA2. Insurers disagreed strongly with this assessment, saying it would lead to unnecessary downstream costs, and direct resources away from targeted efforts to match tests with patients based on risk factors.

In Jolie’s case, however, experts generally praised the actress for her calm explanations of her decisions, which focused on her distinct family history and her decision to wait on the ovarian surgery until biomarkers revealed signs of possible early cancer.

Funk emphasized the importance of family history in understanding genetic testing and medical decisions. “I am excited to be a part of this special episode of Access Health, which educates individuals on the importance of cancer family history and the role genetic testing plays in understand both the individual cancer risk and related medical management options,” she said in a statement.

According a programming note, certified genetic counselor Marianne Lotito will appear with Funk.

At the November 2015 meeting of Patient-Centered Oncology Care, the annual session presented by The American Journal of Managed Care, Joy Larsen Haidle, MS, CGC, the 2015 president of the National Society of Genetic Counselors, said taking a good family history was the “foundation” of ensuring that patients are referred for the appropriate tests. Counselors, she said, can both ensure that patients get the tests they need but also prevent unnecessary tests, thus saving payers money.

The Lifetime program will feature consumer resources, including Myriad’s online Hereditary Cancer Quiz.

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