Hollywood star Angelina Jolie has gone public with her decision to have a double mastectomy, saying she wants other women to benefit from her experience and take preventative action against breast cancer and other types of cancer.
After discovering she carries a mutated gene known to significantly increase the risk of developing ovarian and breast cancer called BRCA1, actress Angelina Jolie decided to get a double mastectomy.
Jolie explained her decision in a Tuesday New York Times Op-Ed.
After watching her mother die of ovarian cancer at age 56, she didn't want her children to fear they would lose her, too.
Gordana Jovicevic lost her mother early as well, but to breast cancer, leaving her to care for her younger brother in Serbia, then Yugoslavia.
"It was difficult," Jovicevic said.
Once she emigrated to the U.S. Jovicevic was ever vigilant about her health, and after a scare with benign lumps in 2001, her doctors suggested genetic testing.
"That was the big 'wow', because then I learned that I was positive BRCA2," she said.
Breast cancer surgeon Margaret Chen said about 1 percent of women carry the mutating BRCA1 and 2 genes, and said that once the faulty gene is discovered, a mastectomy is the most effective prevention method.
"For breast cancer, it's about 90 percent, not 100 percent, but 90 percent effective," Chen said.
Chen said that more and more women are choosing preventative mastectomies, a decision made easier with the support of cancer and plastic surgeons that reconstruct breasts with as few scars as possible.
"We spare not only the skin of the breast, but also preserving the nipple and areola, but just removing the breast tissue that's underneath," Chen said.
Jovicevic said her five-week recovery was painful, but she said she has no regrets. She is grateful that she was able to care for her now 19-year-old son without the shadow of cancer hanging over her.
"It's a pure gain," she said. "I shouldn't have been here. I shouldn't be talking to you now. But here I am."
In her op-ed piece, Jolie encouraged those with a family history of cancer to consider genetic testing. It can cost about $3,000, but is usually covered by most insurance.