Angelina Jolie has revealed she has had a preventive double mastectomy to reduce her risk of developing breast cancer.
Health campaigners praised her decision to go public with the news, which she said was prompted by a desire to encourage other women to get gene-tested and to raise awareness of the options available to those at risk.
The actress has a defective gene, BRCA1, which doctors told her had increased her risk of developing breast cancer to 87%, and her risk of ovarian cancer, the disease that killed her mother at the age of 56, to 50%.
The surgery, which began in February, has reduced Jolie's risk of breast cancer to under 5%, she said:
"I can tell my children that they don't need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer," she wrote. "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."
What a brave woman, the decision couldn't have been an easy one! Once you've done the test and know your risk factor, I suppose it's like living with a gun to your head, so I completely understand the choice she's made and respect her strength and courage.
Dr Richard Francis, head of research at Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said that faults in the BRCA1 gene, which on average put women at a 65% risk of developing breast cancer, were rare and in most cases were linked to family history. He cautioned that a preventative mastectomy would not necessarily be the appropriate treatment for everyone with the gene. "For women like Angelina it's important that they are made fully aware of all the options that are available, including risk-reducing surgery and extra breast screening. Though Angelina decided that a preventative mastectomy was the right choice for her, this may not be the case for another woman in a similar situation."
I would just like to add that only 10-15% of Cancers are genetic, the rest are diet and lifestyle related - and even then, you can change the expression of your genes by the way you choose to eat and live...our health is not pre-determined by our genes 100%. I've seen individuals with no genetic pre-disposition to cancer and they smoke, eat junk food often, are overweight and generally stressed out and they develop it. And on the flipside, I see individuals with cancer in the family, but they eat well, exercise regularly and generaly take care of themselves and the cancer gene is never turned on.
No one should feel powerless in the face of cancer as the absolute best prevention is diet and lifestyle. As the wonderful Kris Carr puts it "Your future is being written with every meal". For me it really sums up that how we choose to eat determines how we choose to live and age - and be sure to have your annual screening too, I still get shocked by how many women don't actually do this evey year.
Angelina you are one brave woman, we are Team Jolie all the way!
Read Angelina's letter in the New York Times.
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