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Why Angelina Jolie made the decision to have a mastectomy

Photo Credit: REUTERS/Hannah McKay

Why Angelina Jolie made the decision to have a mastectomy

When award-winning actress, filmmaker and humanitarian Angelina Jolie discovered she had a mutated BRCA1 gene, which put her at high risk for breast and ovarian cancer, she had her breasts, ovaries and fallopian tubes removed.

Why Angelina Jolie made the decision to have a mastectomy

Jolie’s mother died at the age of 56 after an 8-year battle with ovarian and breast cancer. Jolie had also lost her grandmother and aunt to cancer. Jolie said in a public statement that because of the surgery “My chances of developing breast cancer have dropped from 87% to under 5%. I can tell my children that they don’t need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer.”

Angelina Jolie's children were right by her side again at the London premiere of Maleficent: Mistress of Evil. REUTERS

Angelina Jolie’s children were right by her side again at the London premiere of Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

According to the National Cancer Institute, BRCA1 and BRCA2 are human genes that produce tumour suppressor proteins. When either of these genes is mutated or altered, DNA damage may not be repaired properly. As a result, cells are more likely to develop additional genetic alterations that can lead to cancer.

There are tests available to look for a specific harmful BRCA1 orBRCA2 gene mutation that has already been identified in another family member, and other tests check for all of the known harmful mutations in both genes. Genetic testing involves first searching for a gene mutation. The genes most commonly tested are BRCA1 and BRCA2. After genetic counselling, a sample of blood is usually taken from a woman in the family who has developed breast cancer or ovarian cancer. The DNA is ‘searched’ for a gene fault. This testing may take some months. If a gene fault is not detected after a ‘mutation search’, then testing for the family should be considered as inconclusive. However, if a fault is detected, then other family members (men and women) can be tested to see if they carry the same gene fault or not. The testing for other family members is known as ‘predictive genetic testing’.

Women who carry a fault in BRCA1 or BRCA2 have a high lifetime risk of breast cancer. The precise figure for an individual woman will vary according to several things, such as her age, the number of affected family members, and the exact nature of the fault in the gene.

 They can benefit from measures for prevention and early detection of cancers. Several options are available for managing cancer risk in individuals who have a known harmful BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation. These include enhanced screeningprophylactic (risk-reducing) surgery, and chemoprevention.

Angelina Jolie appears on the November 2019 issue of MiNDFOOD. 

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