Angelina Jolie has revealed that she underwent a double mastectomy to prevent the development of breast cancer.
In an article entitled “My Medical Option” published in the New York Times, the American actress wrote that she underwent this operation because she is a carrier of a “poor” gene that increases the risk of ovarian and breast cancer.
According to the 37 year old actress, who is Brad Pitt’s life partner, doctors told her that she has a 87% risk of developing breast cancer and a 50% risk for ovarian cancer because this gene ( BRCA1).
Angelina Jolie’s mother died at the age of 56, because of cancer. “My mother has fought cancer for nearly ten years and died at 56 years. She lasted long enough to know her first grandson and hold him in her arms. But the rest of my children will not have the chance to know and find out how full of gracious she was,” the actress starts the editorial in The New York Times.
“When I learned about the situation, I decided to take steps to minimize the risks as much as I could,” wrote the artist adding: “I decided to do a double mastectomy, preventively. We started with the breasts because the breast cancer risk is greater than that of ovarian cancer, and the operation is more complex,” the star wrote, adding that after this complex procedure, which lasted three months, the risk of breast cancer has decreased to 5%.
“I’m lucky to have a life partner, Brad Pitt, who loves me and supports me. So anyone who has a wife or a girlfriend who goes through this, knows that you are an important part of this transition process. Brad was at the Pink Lotus Breast Center, where I was treated, and the whole time operations lasted. We managed to find moments to laugh together. We knew that this was the best thing that we could do for our family and that it would bring us even closer. And so it happened,” wrote Angelina Jolie.
The couple has six children together, three of whom are adopted. “I can tell my children that they no longer have any reason to fear that they will lose me because of breast cancer,” she added.
“I chose to make my story public because there are so many women who do not know that they could have cancer. I hope that they are able to be genetically tested and if they find out that they have a high risk of getting cancer, they will know that they have great alternatives,” explained Angelina Jolie.
“Things that should not frighten us are the ones that we can control,” Jolie concluded.
What is the BRCA1 gene?
BRCA1 and BRCA2 are human genes that belong to a class of genes known as “tumor suppressors”. The mutations in these genes are associated with a hereditary risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
The risk of a woman developing breast cancer and / or ovarian cancer significantly increases if she inherits a harmful mutation of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene. Men who inherit such a mutation present, in turn, an increased risk of suffering from breast cancer. Also, both men and women with these mutations may have an increased risk of suffering from other cancers.
Several companies have developed genetic tests that identify the BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutation. This is achieved by using a blood sample. Tests cost between several hundred and several thousand dollars.
According to estimates by experts, about 12% of women (120 of 1,000 women) will develop breast cancer over their lifetime. In contrast, 60% of women who have inherited a harmful mutation of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene (600 of 1,000 women) will develop breast cancer. In other words, a woman who has inherited a harmful mutation of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene will have a five times higher risk of suffering from breast cancer compared to women who do not have such a mutation.
Also, statistics show that 1.4% of women (14 per 1,000 women) will be diagnosed during their life with ovarian cancer. In contrast, 15%-40% (150-400 of 1,000 women) with a harmful BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation will receive this diagnosis.
Genetic analysis shows that the harmful mutation is present in a proportion higher among the Ashkenazi Jews. Also, Norwegians, Dutch and Icelandic have a higher frequency of these mutations in comparison with other nations.
• Supervision – tests (such as mammograms) to identify the cancer early. This method does not reduce the risk of developing cancer, but increases your chances of detecting it early when it is most treatable.
• Prophylactic surgery – this method involves the surgical removal, as much as possible, of the tissue presenting the risk of developing cancer to reduce the risk. This does not guarantee that the patient will develop cancer because surgeons often cannot completely remove the tissue. Therefore, some women who have opted for this option later developed breast cancer, ovarian cancer or peritoneal carcinomatosis (a cancer similar to ovarian cancer).
• Reducing risk factors – certain behaviors were associated with a higher risk of breast or ovarian cancer. For example, birth control pills seem to reduce the risk of developing ovarian cancer even among people with a harmful mutation of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene. Obesity increases the risk of suffering from breast cancer, and vigorous physical activity reduces the risk. Also, alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer.
• Chemoprevention – the use of natural or synthetic substances to reduce the risk of cancer. For example, the drug tamoxifen reduces by 50% the risk of developing breast cancer in women who are at risk and also reduces the risk of the tumor returning in women previously diagnosed with breast cancer.