Quick Hit: Angelina Jolie writes about her double mastectomy, preventing breast cancer

Angelina JolieAngelina Jolie published a op-ed in this morning’s New York Times detailing her double mastectomy. Because of her family history of breast and ovarian cancer, Jolie chose to investigate her own risk through genetic testing. When her doctor determined she had an “87 percent risk of breast cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer,” the actress and director decided to undergo a preventative double mastectomy, reducing her chances of cancer significantly.

Jolie’s piece is more than a personal narrative that denies stigma its power–though it certainly is that, too, and a particularly powerful confession given Hollywood’s obsession with the perfect, young female body. Jole wrote the op-ed, she explains, so other women will be aware of their choices. And though she doesn’t claim that her decision is the only right  one, she highlights just how constrained these choices are for many:

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. 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…

On a personal note, I do not feel any less of a woman. I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity…

For any woman reading this, I hope it helps you to know you have options. 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…

Breast cancer alone kills some 458,000 people each year, according to the World Health Organization, mainly in low- and middle-income countries. It has got to be a priority to ensure that more women can access gene testing and lifesaving preventive treatment, whatever their means and background, wherever they live. The cost of testing for BRCA1 and BRCA2, at more than $3,000 in the United States, remains an obstacle for many women.

I hope everyone with a family history of breast cancer (cis and trans men can be diagnosed as well!) will take a page out of Jolie’s book if they can afford to do so, and that these options will soon be universally available. (That’s why medical organizations are calling on the Supreme Court to rule that the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes can’t be patented.) Not all of us, of course, get to write about our “partner, Brad Pitt, who is so loving and supportive.”

You can read the full article here.

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5 Comments

  1. Posted May 15, 2013 at 3:49 am | Permalink

    Breast cancer is serious. There’s some debate in the medical community whether increased awareness and screening are not leading to more false positives and unnecessary procedures.

    Angelina Jolie made her choice. When I first saw the headline, I thought, oh no!

    Then I realized she gave it thought, naturally, she sees the immense benefit considering her family history, and it’s not my business. I’m a fan of her action movies, and not for her body, but her body and health are her concern.

    • Posted May 15, 2013 at 10:46 am | Permalink

      I’m sure this is the initial response of many people. A story like this can evoke a very visceral response. My first reaction was shock and to press a hand over my own chest. And then the more I read, the more admiration I felt for her making this decision. It had to be incredibly difficult. Society, especially Hollywood, place so much value on not just a woman’s body, but specifically *that part* of her body. But she made the decision she thought was best. This to me is a very admirable exercise in bodily autonomy, and I am grateful she was willing to publicize her choice so that other women might realize that there are more important things in their lives than physical beauty.

    • Posted May 18, 2013 at 12:12 am | Permalink

      “Angelina Jolie made her choice. When I first saw the headline, I thought, oh no!”

      “Then I realized she gave it thought, naturally, she sees the immense benefit considering her family history, and it’s not my business. I’m a fan of her action movies, and not for her body, but her body and health are her concern.”

      so you had to reason with her decision before “accepting it”? is it evident to you, that by your first reaction this is an indication of how deep the idea that womens bodies are for male consumption?

  2. Posted May 15, 2013 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    Today Jezebel reports Jolie has revealed she is also having her ovaries removed to reduce her risk of cancer.

    http://jezebel.com/whoa-angelina-jolie-also-having-her-ovaries-removed-506548317

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/14/opinion/my-medical-choice.html?_r=0

    I’m missing the part Jolie says she actually plans to remove her ovaries as well. “I started with the breasts . . . ” Note: she is reporting her experience herself.

    “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. 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.”

    She says she has a good team of doctors, and Brad Pitt and her father Jon Voight express their support.

  3. Posted May 20, 2013 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    I think Dr. McDougall raises some good points here. Aside from the criminally under reported link between nutrition and cancer, why is it that men are advised to wait and see with their potential cancers while women are scared into the option of mutilation.

    http://www.drmcdougall.com/misc/2013other/news/jolie.htm

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