Angelina Jolie Pitt last week had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed as a preventative measure against cancer.
Writing her candid opinion “Diary Of A Surgery” contribution in the New York Times Jolie explained that she had the surgery because she carries a gene which gives her a 50 percent risk of developing ovarian cancer.
Jolie’s mother Marcheline Bertrand died from ovarian cancer aged 49, and two years ago Jolie had a double mastectomy.
“It is not easy to make these decisions. But it is possible to take control and tackle head-on any health issue.”
Following a check-up two weeks ago, Jolie made the decision to have her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed. A blood test had recently revealed elevated inflammatory markers which could be a sign of early cancer, and she was told to see a surgeon immediately.
“I went through what I imagine thousands of other women have felt. I told myself to stay calm, to be strong, and that I had no reason to think I wouldn’t live to see my children grow up and to meet my grandchildren.”
“I called my husband in France, who was on a plane within hours. The beautiful thing about such moments in life is that there is so much clarity. You know what you live for and what matters. It is polarizing, and it is peaceful.”
Later tests showed that there was no tumour, but after consulting doctors Jolie chose to have her ovaries removed anyway. As well as her mother, her grandmother and aunt also died of the disease.
“My doctors indicated I should have preventive surgery about a decade before the earliest onset of cancer in my female relatives.”
In a BBC News analysis, Health editor Michelle Roberts explained that Angelina Jolie carries a “faulty” gene named BRCA1. It’s this gene that significantly increases her risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
While her doctors had estimated an 87 percent risk of breast cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer, these preventive steps are said to greatly decrease her lifetime risk of cancer.
However, it does not guarantee that cancer will not develop because it’s impossible to remove all the at-risk tissue. In her piece about the procedure itself, Jolie explained the implications.
“It is a less complex surgery than the mastectomy, but its effects are more severe. It puts a woman into forced menopause. Regardless of the hormone replacements I’m taking, I am now in menopause.
“I will not be able to have any more children, and I expect some physical changes. But I feel at ease with whatever will come, not because I am strong but because this is a part of life. It is nothing to be feared.”
Jolie and Brad Pitt have six children, three of whom are adopted.
“It is not possible to remove all risk, and the fact is I remain prone to cancer. I will look for natural ways to strengthen my immune system. I feel feminine, and grounded in the choices I am making for myself and my family.
“I know my children will never have to say: ‘Mom died of ovarian cancer.'”
Earlier publicity about Jolie’s health and her health decisions was said to have caused an increase in the number of women taking cancer tests. Whether this latest move have any wider ramifications for public, “non-elite” health remains to be seen.
Are these preventative measures taken by Angelina Jolie brave and noble, or should she have simply accepted the natural odds of her situation?
[Image -Luke Macgregor/Reuters]