In an article in the New York Times,
Angelina Jolie reveals her decision to have her ovaries and fallopian
tubes removed, in her on-going battle to reduce her risk of cancer.
In her most recent article, Jolie
says she did not decide to have her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed 'solely because I carry
the BRCA1 gene mutation, and I want other women to hear this. A positive BRCA
test does not mean a leap to surgery.'
'The most important
thing is to learn about the options and choose what is right for you
personally,' Jolie added.
With her BRCA1 mutation carrying a 50
percent risk of ovarian cancer, Jolie had been considering preventative surgery for a while. Two weeks ago, she decided to go ahead with it
after a blood test showed slightly elevated levels of early stage cancer
markers. Further tests eventually came back clear. But Jolie remained committed
to surgery in light of both her mutation and strong family history of the
Ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cancer among women
in the UK, with over 7,000 new diagnoses a year, according to Cancer Research UK. While surgery to remove the ovaries
and fallopian tubes is less invasive than a mastectomy, its after-effects are more
severe, forcing women into an early menopause. Therefore, Jolie was keen to
point out that alternatives are available, especially for those women who have
not yet had children.
Charities hope that this recent announcement will increase awareness of ovarian cancer in women. They further anticipate a repeat of the 'Angelina effect' - the upswing in women seeking genetic testing and counselling observed after news of Jolie's double mastectomy surgery broke in 2013 (see BioNews 772).
Barr, chairman of Genesis Breast
Cancer Prevention, says that this surgical procedure 'is a very personal choice'. However,
he adds, 'it
is the only way to
be completely sure that the risk of cancer is made as small as possible'.
Cancer develops when mistakes in our
DNA lead to abnormal cells that begin dividing uncontrollably. BRCA1 and 2 genes normally act as 'tumour suppressors',producing proteins that can repair the DNA damage. Mutations in BRCA genes affect the normal functioning
of these DNA-repairing proteins, increasing the chances of developing many types of cancer.
'If women know they have BRCA gene
mutations, they can choose to take action before cancer develops, much like
Angelina has,' Katharine
Taylor, acting chief executive of Ovarian Cancer Action, commented. 'Her bravery
to announce this news publicly could save lives.'
Most cases of breast cancer are not
inherited, and less than three percent of breast cancers are due
to mutations in BRCA genes.
In the UK, women with a strong family history of breast and ovarian cancer are eligible for genetic testing on the NHS.