Angelina Jolie's cancer scare and decision to have a preventive double mastectomy has started a global discussion about the importance of women's health care and cancer prevention. Watch this video to find out what Angelina's genetic mutation means, if you're a candidate for genetic testing, and steps you can take to reduce your risk of breast and ovarian cancer. For localised support and information, visit Pink Hope.
On Tuesday Angelina Jolie shocked the world by announcing she had a double mastectomy, but the major impact of her disclosure still lies ahead. The news is prompting women to talk about and research the BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations and their own risk of breast or ovarian cancers. And on its newest cover, Time magazine dubs the impending cultural and medical implications "The Angelina Effect."
Health professionals expect a wave of women to come in to test their breast and ovarian cancer risk, even though the procedure is pricey and only one-tenth of 1 percent of women share Angelina's BRCA genetic mutation. For those who do decide to remove their breasts, Angelina has, as a sex symbol, helped shift the prospect from a perceived loss of femininity to an expression of it. She addressed her femininity head on in her op-ed: "On a personal note, I do not feel any less of a woman. I feel empowered that I made a strong choice." And she assured readers that implants can be beautiful, helping to alleviate any shame or embarrassment.
The actress and activist's influence was intentional when she shared her personal decision: "I want to encourage every woman, especially if you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, to seek out the information and medical experts who can help you through this aspect of your life, and to make your own informed choices." Being informed and empowered about your health just got sexy.
Angelina Jolie surprised many on Tuesday when she revealed her decision to undergo a preventive double mastectomy in an op-ed for The New York Times. She shared her brave story with the world in the hopes that she would empower women to take control of their own health. This isn't the first time Angelina's public choices have inspired others, with her philanthropic work and involvement with the UNHCR among the many ways she makes her mark on the world. Read on for more powerful moments from Angelina.
Brad Pitt opened up even more about Angelina Jolie's health and cancer preventative surgeries in an interview he conducted with USA Today after his partner revealed her story on Tuesday. Brad kept his first statement about Angelina's double mastectomy surgeries short and sweet, but in this lengthier conversation, he delved into how their six kids coped and why it was so important to Angelina to share her experience with women around the world. Brad started:
"I'm quite emotional about it, of course. She could have stayed absolutely private about it and I don't think anyone would have been none the wiser with such good results. But it was really important to her to share the story and that others would understand it doesn't have to be a scary thing. In fact, it can be an empowering thing, and something that makes you stronger and us stronger."
Brad also spoke about Angelina's decision to honour her commitment to speak at the G8 summit, travel to Africa, and speak in New York "just weeks after she'd had truly major surgery" and how the family was able to "make an adventure" out of her recovery.
The saga isn't over, and overnight the news broke that Angelina will move forward on removing her ovaries as well. As his parting words in his interview, Brad spoke about what this has meant to him, saying it's been "an emotional and beautifully inspiring few months. And I'll tell you, it's such a wonderful relief to come through this and not have a spectre hanging over our heads."
The preventative surgeries aren't over for Angelina Jolie. On Tuesday, Angie revealed that she underwent a preventative double mastectomy after discovering that she carries the BRCA1 gene, a rare gene that puts her at a high risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. However, People magazine now reports that she is also planning on undergoing surgery to remove her ovaries. Angie's doctors estimate that she has a 50 percent chance of developing ovarian cancer, the same disease that took the life of her mother, Marcheline Bertrand, back in 2007. Most doctors recommend that patients who want to undergo the preventative surgery do so by age 40 or when a woman is done having children, although it could cause the patient to go into early menopause.
At the moment, Angie and Brad Pitt are focused on spending time with their children. Brad released a statement yesterday, saying that he finds Angie's choice, and similar choices women make, "absolutely heroic." He said, "All I want for is for her to have a long and healthy life, with myself and our children. This is a happy day for our family." Angelina finished her double mastectomy surgeries in April. During that time, she also worked on her philanthropic efforts, including traveling to Africa in March to raise awareness of sexual violence in war zones.
In her moving op-ed yesterday, Angelina Jolie revealed that she had a preventive double mastectomy after learning she was at high risk for breast cancer and ovarian cancer. Other women who might be at risk motivated the actress and activist to speak out about her private health decision. Angelina wrote: "Cancer is still a word that strikes fear into people's hearts, 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."
As Angelina's message of prevention and empowerment spreads across the Internet, she's not the only famous woman to generously share her health struggles. Christina Applegate and Wanda Sykes have discussed mastectomies. Others like Beyoncé Knowles and Nicole Kidman sacrificed some privacy to add to the conversation about miscarriages, while women like Gwyneth Paltrow and Brooke Shields have helped increase acceptance of post-partum depression. Whether about mental illness, fertility struggles, or cancer, when recognised and accomplished celebrities open up, it helps raise awareness and understanding about the health issues that impact women. Read through for quotes from some of these brave women now.
After Angelina Jolie revealed her decision to undergo a double mastectomy in an op-ed piece for The New York Times, she has received an outpouring of support including stars reaching out on Twitter and a statement from her fiancé, Brad Pitt. Brad's mum, Jane, spoke out as well today, saying:
"We're so very proud of Angie, this means so much to our family especially our grandchildren. We love her dearly."
Angelina's brother, James Haven, also shared kind words:
"My sister like our mother always put her children first. I am so grateful to be her brother."
Yesterday, Angelina Jolie announced in a New York Times op-ed piece that she underwent a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery as a preventative measure. Because she inherited a certain "faulty" gene, her risk of breast or ovarian cancer — which her mother died from — was very high.
Mutations in these genes, called BRCA1 and BRCA2, are the most common cause of hereditary breast cancer, which tend to strike younger women. Angelina's risk, which she said was over 80 percent, is typical in many who carry one of these gene mutations. BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations are also associated with a high risk of ovarian cancer.
Angelina's difficult decision is one many people who have a high hereditary risk of breast cancer make, since opting for preventative surgery can reduce your risk to much lower levels; post-mastectomy, Angelina says that her breast cancer risk is now under five percent. Last year, for example, Miss America contestant Allyn Rose spoke about her decision to undergo a preventative double mastectomy after the pageant because of her high hereditary risk. In 2008, actress Christina Applegate opted for a double mastectomy, after being diagnosed with cancer in one breast, since testing found that she carried the BRCA1 mutation.
The only way to know if you carry these gene mutations is to get a specific blood test. There are certain patterns that make it more likely that you have these mutations, such as two first-degree relatives (like your mum, daughter, or sister) having breast cancer before age 50, a combination of first- and second-degree relatives (such as a grandmother or aunt) being diagnosed with either breast or ovarian cancer, a first-degree relative diagnosed with cancer in both breasts, or a male relative who was diagnosed with breast cancer. The patterns for those of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, who have a higher risk of inheriting BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations, are different; get the risk pattern lists for everyone here. If an immediate family member is diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer, they are often tested to see if they carry the gene; if they do, you can also undergo testing to see if you also have the mutation. Making the decision to see if you've inherited this gene mutation, and what to do about it, can be difficult; the National Cancer Institute suggests genetic counseling before and after your blood test to help you make the right decision for you and your family.
While you can't change your genetic risk for getting breast cancer, there are some lifestyle changes that can reduce your risk; read our list of 10 things you can do to help prevent breast cancer here.
Brad Pitt has made a statement of his own following his fiancée Angelina Jolie's decision to undergo a double mastectomy. Angelina's article about the procedure was published in today's New York Times, and Brad released a few moving words of his own to UK newspaper The Evening Standard. Brad said:
"Having witnessed this decision firsthand, I find Angie's choice, as well as so many others like her, absolutely heroic. I thank our medical team for their care and focus. All I want for is for her to have a long and healthy life, with myself and our children. This is a happy day for our family."
Angelina, whose decision was prompted by the results of a genetic test and her mother's death from ovarian cancer at age 56, underwent the double mastectomy over the course of this year in LA. Angelina wrote of Brad's unwavering support in the Times, commenting, "I am fortunate to have a partner, Brad Pitt, who is so loving and supportive . . . Brad was at the Pink Lotus Breast Center, where I was treated, for every minute of the surgeries. We managed to find moments to laugh together. We knew this was the right thing to do for our family and that it would bring us closer. And it has."
Angelina Jolie has revealed that she recently underwent a preventative double mastectomy. The actress penned a very open column for the New York Times which just got published online. In it, she wrote about losing her mother, Marcheline Bertrand, to breast cancer (she was 56) and how it meant Marcheline never got to meet her younger grandchildren. Angelina doesn’t want her kids to go through the same thing. She went on to detail the stages of her surgeries (she subsequently had reconstruction surgery) and how she had a lot of support from Brad Pitt. Here are extracts:
On her chances of getting 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.”
On when she had surgery: “On April 27, I finished the three months of medical procedures that the mastectomies involved. During that time I have been able to keep this private and to carry on with my work.”
On the effect on her children: “It is reassuring that they see nothing that makes them uncomfortable. They can see my small scars and that’s it. Everything else is just Mommy, the same as she always was. And they know that I love them and will do anything to be with them as long as I can. 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.”
On Brad Pitt's support: “I am fortunate to have a partner, Brad Pitt, who is so loving and supportive. So to anyone who has a wife or girlfriend going through this, know that you are a very important part of the transition. Brad was at the Pink Lotus Breast Center, where I was treated, for every minute of the surgeries. We managed to find moments to laugh together. We knew this was the right thing to do for our family and that it would bring us closer. And it has.”
Read the full column here.