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Myriad Genetics, Inc. (MYGN), Roche Holding Ltd. (ROG): Angelina Jolie’s Selfless Act Heightens Breast Cancer Awareness

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I admit to not being a big fan of many of her movies — possibly the only man on the planet who will admit so — but there’s little denying that movie sensation Angelina Jolie has a history of selfless acts and humanitarian giving that’s second to none.

MagforWomen.com, for instance, recently highlighted six celebrities that they felt best personified selflessness. Not surprisingly, Jolie and her partner, Brad Pitt, were the first celebrities mentioned because of their countless acts of humanitarian kindness. Included in MagforWomen’s mention was the founding of the Jolie-Pitt Foundation, which was launched with a $1 million personal donation to social organizations such as Doctors Without Borders and Global Action for Children. Both Jolie and Pitt work with numerous other social organizations in addition to the two mentioned here.

Yet for all of her acts of selflessness, perhaps none shines more true, nor reflects more bravery, than her decision to publicly announce in a New York Times op-ed this week that she had a double mastectomy in February.

The motivation behind Jolie’s big decision was complicated. Her mother passed away from breast cancer at the young age of 56 and she wanted to ensure she’d live a long life to see her children grow up. However, the reasoning behind the surgery appears spot on with her testing positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation, which presents carriers with a significantly higher risk of getting breast and ovarian cancer. Based on Jolie’s op-ed, she had an 87% chance of developing breast cancer according to her doctors and a 50% chance of developing ovarian cancer. With her mother having died from the disease, she made the preventative choice to reduce her chances of developing breast cancer by having a double mastectomy to about 5%.

But, even more noteworthy than Jolie’s act itself is the incredible amount of breast cancer awareness that will be raised by going public with this often private matter.

Times and treatments are changing
The scope of breast cancer treatment is improving. What’s worth understanding is that there are multiple ways of treating breast cancer, with complete breast removal as just one of the effective options. Treatment options really depend on whether the patient is dealing with preventative, early stage, or late-stage disease.

Myriad Genetics, Inc. (NASDAQ:MYGN)

Preventative treatments
In terms of preventative measures, genetic companies have made big strides over the past couple of decades with regard to disease detection. Myriad Genetics, Inc. (NASDAQ:MYGN), for example, offers the BRACAnalysis genetic test to help determine if patients carry the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation that’s responsible for a majority of hereditary breast and ovarian cancers. In addition to having a higher propensity to developing breast or ovarian cancer, BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene carriers are more susceptible to developing a second primary cancer. This test offered by Myriad Genetics, Inc. (NASDAQ:MYGN) gives patients a quick answer as to whether they’re a carrier, helping them determine the next best course of action, which can include increased cancer screenings, hormone therapy, or, in Jolie’s case, a preventative mastectomy.

Diagnostics can also play an important role in early and late-stage breast cancer diagnoses. Navidea Biopharmaceuticals Inc (NYSEMKT:NAVB) had Lymphoseek, its external lymph-node imaging and intra-operative lymphatic mapping diagnostic device, approved by the Food and Drug Administration earlier this year to help doctors stage cancer. Discovering whether breast cancer has invaded adjacent lymph nodes has never been easier or safer thanks to Lymphoseek, and it can dramatically aid physicians in determining the best course of action for breast cancer patients.

Early-stage treatments
The early-stage disease is dealt with mostly through hormonal therapies, which reduce the amount of estrogen in a woman’s body and slow or stop tumor development. Generic versions of AstraZeneca plc (ADR) (NYSE:AZN)‘s Arimidex and Novartis AG (ADR) (NYSE:NVS)‘ Femara are two examples of aromatase inhibitors that work on post-menopausal women by temporarily blocking the activity of the aromatase enzyme that is responsible for making estrogen.

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