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Angelina Jolie Reveals She Had Double Mastectomy

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Angelina Jolie last year (Getty Images)
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In an op-ed for the NY Times, Angelina Jolie is making public her decision to have a double mastectomy. Noting that her mother died at 56 of cancer, she explained, "The truth is I carry a “faulty” gene, BRCA1, which sharply increases my risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian 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."

Once I knew that this was my reality, I decided to be proactive and to minimize the risk as much I could. I made a decision to have a preventive double mastectomy. I started with the breasts, as my risk of breast cancer is higher than my risk of ovarian cancer, and the surgery is more complex. 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.

But I am writing about it now because I hope that other women can benefit from my experience. 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.

Now, she says, "My chances of developing breast cancer have dropped from 87 percent to under 5 percent. I can tell my children that they don’t need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer."Jolie describes her treatment at the Pink Lotus Breast Center in Beverly Hills in detail—there was a "nipple delay" procedure as well as one to remove the breast tissues: "The operation can take eight hours. You wake up with drain tubes and expanders in your breasts. It does feel like a scene out of a science-fiction film. But days after surgery you can be back to a normal life." The final surgery was breast reconstruction, "There have been many advances in this procedure in the last few years, and the results can be beautiful."

The actress-director-humanitarian, who also paid tribute to Brad Pitt for being "loving and supportive" and present for every surgery, has made high-profile appearances last month—she spoke at the Women in the World summit in New York and addressed foreign ministers at a G8 meeting in London. She implores, "Breast cancer alone kills some 458,000 people each year, according to the World Health Organization, mainly in low- and middle-income countries. It has got to be a priority to ensure that more women can access gene testing and lifesaving preventive treatment, whatever their means and background, wherever they live. The cost of testing for BRCA1 and BRCA2, at more than $3,000 in the United States, remains an obstacle for many women."