Angelina Jolie, who had a preventable double mastectomy back in May 2013, has revealed that her ovaries have been removed. In a piece she wrote for the New York Times, Jolie explained her choice.
Cancer apparently runs in her family. Her mother, grandmother and aunt all died from cancer. Two years ago, Jolie discovered through a simple blood test that she carried a mutation in her BRCA1 gene. This gave her a 50% risk of developing ovarian cancer and an 87% risk of developing breast cancer.
Having the double mastectomy was supposed to reduce her risk of contracting breast cancer, and it probably did. However, she was recently called by her doctors when they took a blood test.
She learned that her CA-125 was normal, which means her chance of getting ovarian cancer is low. Despite this, there’s a 50-75% chance that the CA-125 test might miss ovarian cancer when it’s in its early stages.
Her doctor discovered numerous inflammatory markers that had been elevated, which could be an early indicator of cancer. He urged her to immediately see a surgeon to check her ovaries.
Shortly after that, she called her husband, Brad Pitt, who was in France. Pitt immediately booked a flight and, within hours, was on his way to her side.
The results of her examination came, and there wasn’t anything to make her panic. If she did have cancer, it was still in its early stages. She took a PET/CT scan, which looked clear, and she took a tumor test which came out negative.
Jolie learned she still had the option of having her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed. She discussed this with a number of doctors, all of whom agreed that the best option for her was to have them removed, because of the prevalence of cancer in her family and her BRCA gene.
Jolie’s mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer when she was 49. Jolie is now 39, and her doctors advised her that it’s best to have preventive surgery around 10 years before the initial onset of cancer in her relatives.
The decision Angelina Jolie made was painful, but necessary. If you discover that your family has a history of cancer and you have a good chance of meeting the same fate as them, the best choice is to take preventative measures.
Jolie is a little fortunate in that she’s already had children. But for other women, it might not be the same. Still, there’s the option of having your fallopian tubes removed but keeping your ovaries.