Angelina Jolie revealed in the New York Times Op-Ed Page last Tuesday that she carries a defective gene that puts her at high risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. The thirty-seven year old actress had mastectomies in February followed by reconstructive surgery in April.
Angelina Jolie’s mother had breast cancer and died of ovarian cancer and her maternal grandmother also had ovarian cancer. This is strong evidence of an inherited, genetic risk that led the actress to have both of her breasts removed in an effort to avoid the same fate.
Dr. Kristi Funk treated Jolie at the Pink Lotus Breast Center in Beverly Hills and detailed her care on the center’s website. Dr. Funk would not disclose when Jolie learned she carried the faulty gene. (By the way, doesn’t the doctor look like a blonde version of Angie?). Jolie wrote in her New York Times article, ”My doctors estimated that I had an 87 percent risk of breast cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer, although the risk is different in the case of each woman. Once I knew that this was my reality, I decided to be proactive and to minimize the risk as much I could.” When a preventive mastectomy is done, there’s a 2 to 8 percent chance of finding cancer.
Jolie wrote, “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.”
Studies have shown that many American women get this procedure to prevent cancer recurrence, even though it may not be necessary because of their breast cancer types. The procedure is recommended for people like Jolie because they possess the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene, or have a strong family history of the disease.
Granted, unlike Angelina, many women do not have the resources that Angelina has or a loving partner such as Brad Pitt, who was with her every step of the way.
One thing is certain: like everything the actress does, she has taken a bold action that not only empowers herself but other women.
“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. Life comes with many challenges. The ones that should not scare us are the ones we can take on and take control of”, Jolie concluded.
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