love and war

Angelina Jolie Had a Double Mastectomy

Photo: Chris Weeks

Angelina Jolie has written a New York Times op-ed revealing that she underwent a preventative double mastectomy earlier this year. Jolie’s mother, the actress Marcheline Bertrand, died in 2007 at 59 years old from cancer. In the Times piece, Jolie writes about having long told her kids “not to worry” that “the same could happen to me.” However, her doctors recently discovered that she carries a “faulty” gene, BRCA1, that predisposes her to both ovarian and breast cancer.

My doctors estimated that I had an 87 percent risk of breast cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer, although the risk is different in the case of each woman.Only a fraction of breast cancers result from an inherited gene mutation. Those with a defect in BRCA1 have a 65 percent risk of getting it, on average.

Once I knew that this was my reality, I decided to be proactive and to minimize the risk as much I could. I made a decision to have a preventive double mastectomy. 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 began the process in early February with a “nipple delay” procedure to make sure that there was no cancer in the breast ducts behind her nipples and to increase blood flow to the area in preparation for subsequent surgeries. Two weeks later, her breast tissue was removed and replaced with temporary fillers. And, nine weeks after that, her breasts were reconstructed with implants. Her doctors now say that her chances of getting breast cancer have gone from 87 percent to under 5 percent.

Jolie hopes that publicizing her decision will encourage women — especially those with family histories of ovarian or breast cancer — to seek out information and medical evaluations, if necessary. She also notes that the $3,000 cost of the tests she received is “an obstacle” for low- and middle-income women: “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.”

“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,” she writes. “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.” And — because we know some of you are wondering — Jolie says that she is “fortunate” to “have a partner, Brad Pitt, who is so loving and supportive.”