Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=221369
Story Retrieval Date: 10/1/2014 7:21:57 PM CST

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Cancer scare drives Angelina Jolie to double mastectomy

by Lorenzo Patrick
May 14, 2013


Oscar-winning actress and activist Angelina Jolie revealed Tuesday in a New York Times Op-Ed that she has completed a double mastectomy to reduce her risk of breast cancer. Breast cancer survivors and support groups, alike, voiced their support of the decorated actress' surprising decision to make her surgery public.

Maggie Bahler, marketing director of the cancer support group, Gilda's Club, said in a statement, “We respect all treatment options as personal decisions. Clearly, Ms. Jolie is aligned with our mission to empower by knowledge, strengthen by action and sustain by community as part of becoming an informed advocate for oneself.”

Jolie, who is normally discreet about her private life, said she hopes to help other women at risk of breast cancer with her story.

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

The three-time Golden Globe Award winner said her doctors discovered she had a mutated BRCA1 gene, which dramatically increases a woman's susceptibility to developing breast and ovarian cancers. In Jolie's case, it was, respectively, an increased 87 and 50 percent risk. With the procedure, she reduced her breast cancer risk to under 5 percent.

“I can tell my children that they don’t need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer,” she said. “It is reassuring that they see nothing that makes them uncomfortable.[...]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.”

Jolie detailed her mother's 10-year battle with breast cancer at the beginning of the piece, which meant only one of her six children met their grandmother. She hopes the test used to diagnose her with the mutated gene, which can cost up to $3,000 without insurance, can become less of a hurdle for those who need it.

 

Molly Hague, a survivor of Stage-2 breast cancer and a production assistant, thinks her decision to go public with her surgery can only help breast cancer awareness.

“I think it's also important to realize she's a mother of young children,” she said. “Going through cancer is no fun, and I know going through it twice would be even worse. In terms of her staying healthy and enjoying her children's lives as they grow up, I also think it was a great family decision.”

According to Cancer.gov, lowering alcohol intake and abstinence from smoking are two widely accepted ways of reducing a woman's risk for breast cancer. Only 5-10 percent of breast cancer cases come from hereditary gene mutations, with BRCA1 and BRCA2 the most common, the site stated. A number of nonsurgical options exist to lower the risk of breast cancer, including an increased schedule of mammograms and the prescription medications tamoxifen or raloxifene. No preventative measures exist to treat the disease.

Hague said she hopes Jolie's announcement can ease the stigma behind getting the procedure done for women considering the option. “I had known a few women who had had minimal procedures who had recurrences,” she said.“I think she made a great decision. She's in the public eye enough, and beautiful enough, I think, for the average woman going through this to say, 'You know what? This [procedure] is the right thing to do.'”