Angelina Jolie: Cancer Scare, Elective Mastectomy Raise Awareness

Angelina Jolie's cancer scare, and elective double mastectomy, may have raised awareness about genetic cancer testing and breast reconstruction surgery, according to studies conducted by Austria's Medical University of Graz.

In May 2013, the critically acclaimed actress announced she underwent a preventative double mastectomy. In her article, which was published by the New York Times, Jolie explained her decision was prompted by her mother's struggle with cancer and a series of genetic tests.

Angelina Jolie's mother fought cancer for more than 10 years. Unfortunately, she passed away at the age of 56. As she was concerned for her own health, the actress underwent genetic testing to assess her risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer.

As discussed in her article, Jolie's doctors determined she was carrying a genetic mutation called the BRCA1 gene. Although rare, the mutation increases the risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer.

In a similar article, which was published in March 2015, Jolie reveals she had an "estimated 87 percent risk of breast cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer."

Angelina Jolie said the cancer risk was simply too much. She subsequently opted for an elective double mastectomy to prevent the possibility of developing the devastating disease. In her own words, she "decided to be proactive and to minimize the risk as much [as she] could."

As reported by the Daily Mail, the actress' breasts were naturally reconstructed using her own tissue, as opposed to silicone implants.

In March 2015, the actress underwent another elective surgery -- to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes.

Although the surgery was far less invasive, Jolie confirmed the operation caused her to experience early menopause. As reported by People, a "progesterone IUD was inserted into her uterus" to reduce the ill effects associated with menopausal hormone imbalance.

Angelina Jolie shared her cancer scare, and experience with the elective surgeries, to raise awareness about the benefits of genetic testing. Recent studies suggest her plan may have worked.

To conduct their research, doctors with Medical University of Graz polled a random sampling of 2,000 women between the ages of 18 and 65. The first group of 1,000 were polled prior to Angelina Jolie's cancer announcement, the others were polled after the announcement was made.

As discussed in the study, which was published in the journal Cancer, the first group of participants were asked questions about their level of awareness about breast cancer and breast reconstruction surgery.

The researchers asked the second group similar questions, including whether "media coverage regarding Ms. Jolie affected their interest in breast cancer."

According to the study, up to 20 percent of the women polled said the media coverage surrounding Angelina Jolie's cancer scare and reconstructive surgery increased their awareness about breast cancer in general.

As reported by CBC News, media coverage about the actress' experience also raised awareness about genetic testing to assess cancer risk.

Medical University of Graz professor Dr. David Benjamin Lumenta confirmed "the key finding was that Mrs. Jolie's announcement did indeed affect public opinion going beyond gene-positivity."

Although Jolie's announcement was met with some criticism, she has strongly defended her decision as detrimental for the sake of her health. The surgeries are certainly not going to prevent the actress from getting cancer, however, they could greatly reduce the risk.

Angelina Jolie's cancer scare prompted her to take a proactive approach. However, she underlines the fact that every woman is different and "the most important thing is to learn about the options and choose what is right for you personally."

[Image via Eamonn M. McCormack/Getty Images]