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Americas

Angelina Jolie has double mastectomy to reduce breast cancer risk

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-05-15

Angelina Jolie revealed on Tuesday that she had a double mastectomy after finding out she carries a defective gene that puts her at greater risk of developing breast cancer, urging other women to get tested to see if they may also be at risk.

Oscar-winning actress Angelina Jolie underwent a double mastectomy to reduce her risk of contracting breast cancer, she revealed on Tuesday, while urging other women to seek out information about the disease and the measures they can take to prevent it.

Writing in an opinion piece entitled "My Medical Choice" in The New York Times, the 37-year-old, whose mother died of breast cancer at the age of 56, revealed that she decided to undergo the procedure after discovering she carries a faulty gene that increases her risk of both breast and ovarian cancer.

The American actress said that because of this gene, known as BRCA1, her doctors estimated she had an 87 percent risk of breast cancer and 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer.

"Once I knew that this was my reality, I decided to be proactive and to minimise the risk as much I could. I made a decision to have a preventive double mastectomy," she wrote. "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.”

She went on to describe the medical procedure in detail, explaining that the three-stage process began in February with an operation known as a ‘nipple delay’, which “rules out disease in the breast ducts behind the nipple and draws extra blood flow to the area”.

She then had major surgery two weeks later during which breast tissue was removed, which Jolie said felt “like a scene out of a science-fiction film”. Finally, after a wait of another nine weeks, she had a third surgery to reconstruct the breasts and receive implants.

Boyfriend Brad Pitt was by her side “for every minute of the surgeries”, added Jolie.

The mother of six said that she said she managed to keep the issue quiet and keep working but she has now decided to speak out about her experience to encourage other women to seek out information on breast cancer from doctors, and make informed choices about their bodies.

“I choose not to keep my story private because there are many women who do not know that they might be living under the shadow of cancer,” she wrote. “It is my hope that they, too, will be able to get gene tested, and that if they have a high risk they, too, will know that they have strong options.”

However, she noted that the cost of getting tested for BRCA1 and another faulty gene, called BRCA2, at more than $3,000 in the United States "remains an obstacle for many women".

On average, those with a defect in BRCA1 have a 65 per cent risk of developing breast cancer, said Jolie, while doctors told her that following her double mastectomy her chances of getting the disease had fallen to just five percent.

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among women and is responsible for more than 450,000 deaths a year worldwide, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Rates of breast cancer are also far higher in most parts of the developed world than in developing countries.

“Cancer is still a word that strikes fear into people’s hearts, producing a deep sense of powerlessness,” wrote Jolie. “But today it is possible to find out through a blood test whether you are highly susceptible to breast and ovarian cancer, and then take action.”

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

Date created : 2013-05-14

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