She is a global icon. Now, Angelina Jolie has told the world she’s had a double mastectomy. She said her husband, Brad Pitt, was there for every minute of the surgery.
Angelina Jolie inherited a mutated gene known as BRCA 1. Doctors said it gave her an 87% risk of breast cancer and a 50% chance of ovarian cancer: the disease which killed her mother. The mastectomy has cut her breast cancer risk to almost zero.
Angelina Jolie: 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. I can tell my children that they don’t need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer.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.
Wendy Hallowell: This is my mum here.
Wendy Hallowell also carries a faulty BRCA1 gene. Her mother died of breast cancer, so she opted for a double mastectomy and later, her ovaries were removed.
Wendy Hallowell: There’s nothing negative about getting the surgery. Umm, I think emotionally dealing with knowing you have the gene is quite difficult for a short period of time but I think once you’ve got the decisions in your head you’re ... you're on the right road.”
A woman’s lifetime risk of getting breast cancer is one in eight. Most cases will occur after the age of 50. Just one in twenty is due to a genetic factor. Survival rates have improved dramatically. Two out of three women will live at least 20 years after diagnosis.
Women with a strong family history of breast cancer are offered a genetic test that can reveal if they are among the one in 700 who carry a faulty BRCA gene.
A doctor: Sometimes, as has occurred with Angelina Jolie, unfortunately it turns out they have got that mutation and therefore they faced with, um, difficult options.But just as often, we can show that they haven’t inherited it and therefore despite that strong family history they personally aren’t at increased risk of cancer and neither are their children.”
Angelina Jolie has made it clear she is likely to have her ovaries removed in years to come. She says she hopes that more women at risk of cancer will get gene tested so they, too, can make informed decisions.