In today’s New York Times, Angelina Jolie—who has been named to a few “most beautiful people” lists in her time—reveals she has had a double mastectomy to prevent the possibility of breast cancer. She said that given her genetic makeup, doctors estimated she had an 85 percent chance of getting breast cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer.
She said that she finished three months of medical procedures—including breast reconstruction—involving the mastectomies on April 27.
I wanted to write this to tell other women that the decision to have a mastectomy was not easy. But it is one I am very happy that I made. My chances of developing breast cancer have dropped from 87 percent to under 5 percent. I can tell my children that they don’t need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer.
It is reassuring that they see nothing that makes them uncomfortable. They can see my small scars and that’s it. Everything else is just Mommy, the same as she always was. And they know that I love them and will do anything to be with them as long as I can. On a personal note, I do not feel any less of a woman. I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity.
I choose not to keep my story private because there are many women who do not know that they might be living under the shadow of cancer. It is my hope that they, too, will be able to get gene tested, and that if they have a high risk they, too, will know that they have strong options.
Jolie had the BRCA1 gene,which often results in cancer.
On All Things Considered in August 2010, NPR’s Patti Neighmond reported about a Journal of the American Medical Association study that showed the “clearest evidence yet that women carrying the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes should consider preventive surgery because they are at a very high risk for breast and ovarian cancers.”
Dr. Kenneth Offit, chief of the clinical genetics service at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York told All Things Considered that the study “confirms powerfully that genetic testing as well as surgery together are a powerful strategy to prevent breast and ovarian cancer.”
[Update: 1:26 p.m.] Our PhillyMag colleague Emily Leaman interviewed Jennifer Simmons, chief of breast surgery and director of the Women’s Center at Einstein Medical Center Montgomery, about who should get tested for the gene and, perhaps, have pre-emptive surgery. An excerpt:
Who should get BRCA testing?
If you have more than three first relatives who have developed breast cancer (i.e. mother, sister and grandmother); if you have developed the disease under the age of 50 or, more importantly, under the age of 40; if you or someone in your family has had cancer in two breasts; if you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer on the same side of your family (i.e. mother’s or father’s side); or if you have a family history of male breast cancer, you would be considered higher risk and a candidate for BRCA testing.
Okay, so if a person gets BRCA testing done and it comes back positive, what’s the next step?
I’ll have a conversation with patients to discuss their options: keeping them under close observation; putting them on tamoxifen, an anti-estrogen that decreases their chances of developing cancer; or having them undergo a mastectomy. Most of the time, when they’re mutation carriers, they’ll opt for mastectomy. My job is to give information and guide them to the decision that makes them feel comfortable.
Read the whole thing.