Actress Angelina Jolie underwent a preventative double mastectomy after doctors estimated she had an 87% risk of breast cancer and 50% chance of ovarian cancer, she revealed on Tuesday in a New York Times op-ed.
“Cancer is still a word that strikes fear into people’s hearts, producing a deep sense of powerlessness,” she wrote in the article, which she hopes will help other women benefit from her experience. She added that she feels empowered, but not diminished.
The Oscar-winning actress, who is 37, carries a faulty gene, BRCA1, that sharply increases her risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. Her process began on Feb. 2 and ended on April 27 after three months of medical procedures.
A mastectomy is an operation that removes all or part of the breast. Other ways to prevent breast cancer include mammography screening and breast self examinations. Prevention offers the most cost-effective long-term strategy for the control of cancer, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
“The decision to have a double mastectomy is obviously a complicated one, and it’s one that patients should make in consultation with their doctors and with their family, taking into account the long-term risk of developing breast cancer and the quality of life issues that attend to such decisions,” Dr. Stephen Grobmyer of the Cleveland Clinic Breast Center said Tuesday on Jansing & Co.
BRCA counseling about genetic testing for women must be covered by health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, but only when the service is delivered by a network provider. Many women won’t have health insurance that will pay for the expense of the genetic test.
“Where a woman lives and how much money she has should never determine whether she lives,” Ambassador Nancy Brinker, founder of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure, said on the show.
Jolie’s mother, actress and producer Marcheline Bertrand, died from cancer in 2007 at the age of 56.
“We often speak of ‘Mommy’s mommy,’ and I find myself trying to explain the illness that took her away from us,” Jolie wrote of discussing the disease with her children. “They have asked if the same could happen to me. I have always told them not to worry.”
The procedures reduced Jolie’s chances of developing breast cancer to less than 5%.
“I can tell my children,” she wrote, “that they don’t need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer.”
Breast cancer is the top cancer in women both in the developed and developing world, comprising 16% of all female cancers, according to WHO. Chances of breast cancer have risen in the developing world because of increases in life expectancies, urbanization, and the adoption of western lifestyles.
WHO estimated that 519,000 women died in 2004 due to breast cancer. Although breast cancer is thought to be a disease of the developed world, 69% of all breast cancer deaths occurs in developing countries.