The 37-year-old Hollywood star Angelina Jolie has had a double mastectomy to reduce her chances of getting breast cancer and says she hopes her story will inspire other women fighting the life-threatening disease.
She decided to undergo this surgery because she carries a faulty BRCA1 gene that means she is much more likely to suffer from breast or ovarian cancer, she wrote in the New York Times.
“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,” Jolie wrote.
“Once I knew that this was my reality, I decided to be proactive and to minimize the risk as much I could. I made a decision to have a preventive double mastectomy.”
The BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes work in the body to keep DNA stable and to make sure cells don’t grow out of control, according to the National Cancer Institute. But certain mutations of these genes can dramatically raise cancer risk, says the Huff Post.
Breast cancer alone kills some 458,000 people each year, according to the World Health Organization. It is estimated that one in 300 to one in 500 women carry a BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 gene mutation, as Jolie does.
The actress says she decided to have the preventive mastectomy to be “proactive” for the sake of her six children with her partner, Brad Pitt.
Jolie, whose mother died aged 56 after fighting cancer for nearly a decade, said she was speaking out in the hope that other women could benefit from her experience.
“My mother fought cancer for almost a decade and died at 56,” Jolie writes. “She held out long enough to meet the first of her grandchildren and to hold them in her arms. But my other children will never have the chance to know her and experience how loving and gracious she was.”
Jolie began the process on Feb. 2, when she underwent a “nipple delay” procedure to make sure there is no breast cancer behind the nipple. She completed all the mastectomy procedures on April 27, including breast reconstruction with an implant, she wrote.
“I wanted to write this to tell other women that the decision to have a mastectomy was not easy,” she wrote.
“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.”
She also wrote that Brad Pitt, her partner of eight years, was at the Pink Lotus Breast Center in Southern California for “every minute of the surgeries.”
Richard Francis, Head of Research at the Breakthrough Breast Cancer charity in Britain, said it demonstrated the importance of educating women with the gene fault, reports the Reuters.
“For women like Angelina it’s important that they are made fully aware of all the options that are available, including risk-reducing surgery and extra breast screening,” Francis told Reuters.
Breast Cancer Campaign Chief Executive Baroness Delyth Morgan said Jolie’s openness in talking about her experience and her decision to have surgery would raise awareness of the disease and its risk.