“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.
Only a fraction of breast cancers result from an inherited gene mutation. Those with a defect in BRCA1 have a 65 percent risk of getting it, on average.
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. I started with the breasts, as my risk of breast cancer is higher than my risk of ovarian cancer, and the surgery is more complex.” NYTIMES 5/14/13
In an article entitled My Medical Choice, Ms Jolie explained that her mother fought cancer for nearly a decade and died at the age of 56.
Family history of breast cancer
She said she had sought to reassure her children that the same illness would not take her away from them, “but the truth is I carry a ‘faulty’ gene, BRCA1, which sharply increases my risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer”.
She said that once she “knew that this was my reality”, she had taken the decision to undergo the nine weeks of complex surgery required to have a double mastectomy, followed by reconstruction of the breasts with implants.
“There have been many advances in this procedure in the last few years, and the results can be beautiful,” she wrote.
Her chances of developing breast cancer have now dropped from 87% to under 5%, she said.
She praised her partner, Brad Pitt, for his love and support throughout the procedure, and said she was reassured that her children had found nothing in the results “that makes them uncomfortable”.
“I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity,” she said.
“For any woman reading this, I hope it helps you to know you have options,” Ms Jolie went on to say.
“I want to encourage every woman, especially if you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, to seek out the information and medical experts who can help you through this aspect of your life, and to make your own informed choices.”
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The award-winning actress and director is also a long-time supporter of humanitarian causes. She is currently a special envoy for the UN Refugee Agency.
During the period she was undergoing the double mastectomy procedure, Ms Jolie visited the Democratic Republic of Congo with UK Foreign Secretary William Hague and attended the G8 summit of foreign ministers in London to raise awareness over sexual violence in conflict.
She also helped launch a charity to fund girls’ education set up by the Pakistani schoolgirl activist Malala Yousafzai, who survived being shot by the Taliban last October.
Ms Jolie has three biological children and three adopted children.
- About one in five women diagnosed with breast cancer will have a significant family history of the disease
- Having close family members – first-degree relatives like a sister, mother, aunt or uncle – with breast cancer raises a woman’s own risk of the disease
- Certain genes such as BRCA1 and BRCA2 are strongly linked with breast cancer and can be detected with genetic tests
- Women carrying the BRCA1 mutation have up to a 65% chance of developing breast cancer by the time they are 70
- Fewer than 1% of women are at high risk of developing breast cancer
- Another 2% of women deemed to be at moderate risk might also benefit from taking preventive breast cancer drugs for five years, say experts