Hollywood star Angelina Jolie has revealed that she had recently undergone a double mastectomy to reduce her chances of getting breast cancer.
Angelina Jolie, 37, wrote in The New York Times that she
decided to have the operation after learning that she had a "faulty"
gene, BRCA1, which "sharply increases my risk of developing breast cancer
and ovarian cancer”.
"My chances of developing breast cancer have dropped
from 87% to under 5%," Jolie wrote. "I can tell my children that they
don't need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer."
In February Sharon
Osborne reported that she too had a double
mastectomy after testing positive for the breast cancer gene. In 2008
Applegate also had a double mastectomy after she was diagnosed with breast
What is a mastectomy?
A mastectomy is the surgical removal of the breast, or in
Angelina’s case, both breasts, usually as a treatment for breast
cancer. There are three types
of mastectomy, but the third type is now rarely carried out:
Local mastectomy: removal of the breast tissue and the fascia
overlying the muscle underneath.
mastectomy: removal of the breast tissue, the fascia and the lymph nodes under
Radical mastectomy: rarely done. Removal of the breast
tissue, the lymph nodes and the underlying muscle and fascia.
How is a mastectomy
The type of incision into the skin depends on the size of the
tumour, the type of tumour and whether or not breast reconstruction is going to
be carried out immediately.
The breast tissue is pealed from the skin. As much possible
of the skin and underlying fat are preserved in cases where a reconstruction is
planned. In most cases the nipple and areola are removed along with the breast
Nipple-sparing surgery is only done in exceptional cases.
The breast is then removed whole, with the covering of the muscle underneath.
If a modified radical mastectomy is done then the lymph nodes are removed
through the same incision.
Jolie said she completed three months of procedures at the
end of April, and decided to go public "because I hope that other women
can benefit from my experience. I wanted to write this to tell other women that
the decision to have a mastectomy was not easy. But it is one I am very happy
that I made," she wrote.
"I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in
no way diminishes my femininity."
Q & A on Angelina's surgery (via Associated Press)
Q: What kind of
surgery did Jolie have?
A: Jolie had a
preventative double mastectomy, meaning she chose to have both her breasts
removed even though she had not been diagnosed with cancer.
Q: Why did she
have the mastectomies?
A: Jolie says
that she has a "faulty" version of the BRCA1 gene that means she has
an 87 percent chance of getting breast cancer. By having both breasts removed
preventatively, she said her breast cancer risk drops to 5 percent.
Q: How many
women have this faulty gene?
A: Only a small percentage of women have this same faulty gene, or a similar mutated version of
a related gene, BRCA 2. These mutations are most commonly found in women of
Eastern European Jewish descent; one study found 2.3 percent of women in that
group had the mutations — about five times higher than in the general
population. Other ethnic groups, including the Norwegian, Dutch and Icelandic
people, also have slightly higher rates of these mutations.
Q: How do these
genes increase a woman's risk of breast cancer?
A: The average
woman has a 12 percent risk of developing breast cancer sometime during her
life. In comparison, women who have inherited a faulty version of a breast
cancer gene are about five times more likely to get breast cancer. In the U.S.,
about 5 to 10 percent of breast cancers are thought to be linked to harmful
versions of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.
Q: How can women
find out if they have these gene mutations?
A: A genetic
test using a blood test can usually detect these genes. In the U.S., there are
no standard guidelines recommending women for BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic testing.
The tests usually cost at least several hundred dollars.