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Ear to the Ground

Actress Angelina Jolie on Her ‘Empowering’ Decision to Have Her Breasts Removed

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Posted on May 14, 2013
Gage Skidmore (CC-BY-SA)

Angelina Jolie made her fortune as one of the most beautiful women in the world, and after having a double mastectomy to prevent against breast cancer, she writes, “I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity.”

The Academy Award-winning actress discussed her very personal medical decisions in a New York Times op-ed, writing, “I hope that other women can benefit from my experience.”

Jolie explains that although she did not have cancer, she learned that she had a genetic anomaly that, in her case, gave her an 87 percent chance of developing breast cancer and a 50 percent one of ovarian cancer. She says the decision to have her breasts removed was difficult, but one she is very happy with.

The New York Times reports that Jolie’s situation is not typical of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer:

Her condition is rare. Mutations in BRCA1 and another gene called BRCA2 are estimated to cause only 5 percent to 10 percent of breast cancers and 10 percent to 15 percent of ovarian cancers among white women in the United States. The mutations are found in other racial and ethnic groups as well, but it is not known how common they are.

About 30 percent of women who are found to have BRCA mutations choose preventive mastectomies, said Dr. Kenneth Offit, chief of clinical genetics at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. Those who have seen family members die young from the disease are most likely to opt for the surgery.

“Cancer is still a word that strikes fear into people’s hearts,” Jolie writes, “producing a deep sense of powerlessness. 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.”

—Posted by Peter Z. Scheer.

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