Angelina Jolie says that she has had a preventive double mastectomy after learning she carried a gene that made it extremely likely she would get breast cancer.
The Oscar-winning actress made the announcement in the form of an opinion piece she authored for yesterday’s New York Times under the headline, “My Medical Choice.” She writes that between early February and late last month she completed three months of surgical procedures to remove both breasts.
Jolie, 37, writes that she made the choice with thoughts of her six children after watching her own mother, actress Marcheline Bertrand, die too young from cancer.
“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.”
“They have asked if the same could happen to me,” she writes.
Jolie said that after genetic testing, she learned she carries the “faulty” BRCA1 gene and had an 87 percent chance of getting the disease herself and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer.
“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,” Jolie wrote.
She said she had kept the process private, but wrote about it with hopes of helping other women.
“I wanted to write this to tell other women that the decision to have a mastectomy was not easy. But it is one I am very happy that I made,” Jolie writes. “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.”
“My own process began on Feb. 2 with a procedure known as a ‘nipple delay,’” she writes, “which rules out disease in the breast ducts behind the nipple and draws extra blood flow to the area.”
She then describes the major surgery two weeks later, where breast tissue was removed, saying it felt “like a scene out of a science-fiction film,” then writes that nine weeks later, she had a third surgery to reconstruct the breasts and receive implants.”
Many women have chosen preventive mastectomy since genetic screening for breast cancer was developed, but the move and public announcement is unprecedented from a star so young and widely known as Jolie.
“I do not feel any less of a woman,” she writes. “I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity.”
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.”
Jolie said the cost of getting tested for BRCA1 and another faulty gene, called BRCA2, is more than US$3,000 in the US and that this “remains an obstacle for many women.”
“Life comes with many challenges. The ones that should not scare us are the ones we can take on and take control of,” Jolie wrote.
Additional reporting by AFP