Letter: Assessing Hereditary Cancer Risk

To the Editor:

When I was vice president and medical director at Myriad Genetics, which performed the testing that demonstrated that Angelina Jolie was at high risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer, a major task was to supervise a dozen genetic counselors across the country who educated physicians and counseled women about hereditary breast-ovarian cancer. I learned from them that information about cancer risk, carefully presented, was good, and that women dealt with that information overwhelmingly in a positive manner. There is no need to wring one’s hands that Jolie’s New York Times opinion piece may do more harm than good. It will not. At the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center Familial Cancer Program, we have a group of physicians and genetic counselors, half of whom I once worked with personally, who are excellent. If you have questions about hereditary cancer risk, contact them.

And to the writer of the May 22 editorial about Jolie: It was bad taste to refer to Brad Pitt as her partner “for now at least.” And you suggested most people had a prurient interest in her story rather than concern for her personally and for other women with breast cancer. Not so. I doubt that I will forget the stunning Jolie as Lady Lara Croft blow away the bad guys in Tomb Raider , but to characterize my sympathy for her as prurient is crass.

Walter W. Noll, M.D.

Professor of Pathology Emeritus

Dartmouth Medical School