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Why Angelina Jolie chose to have a preventative double mastectomy
The 37-year-old actress didn't have breast cancer. But she was at a very high risk of getting the disease one day.
 
"I can tell my children that they don't need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer." — Angelina Jolie
"I can tell my children that they don't need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer." — Angelina Jolie Soul Brother/Retna Ltd./Corbis

In a New York Times op-ed today, Angelina Jolie revealed that she chose to undergo a preventative double mastectomy in February to dramatically minimize her risk of breast cancer back.

The 37-year-old actress, who had her breast tissue surgically removed, said that she had a "faulty" gene — BRCA1 — that "sharply" increased her risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. Jolie said the gene runs in her family. "My mother fought cancer for almost a decade and died at 56," wrote Jolie. "She held out long enough to meet the first of her grandchildren and to hold them in her arms."

Jolie explained that her doctors estimated she had "an 87 percent risk of breast cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer, although the risk is different in the case of each woman."

In the actress' case, the mastectomy process occurred over a 9-week period beginning Feb. 2 with a procedure called a "nipple delay," a technique in which doctors closely examined the areola for signs of disease, and perhaps spare the nipple.

Two weeks later, the breast tissue was removed in an eight-hour procedure, and a week after that, the final surgery was completed following "the reconstruction of the breasts with an implant," said Jolie.

In January, Miss America contestant Allyn Rose made headlines when she revealed plans to undergo a double mastectomy to reduce her risk of developing breast cancer. Rose said the disease claimed the lives of her mother, grandmother, and great aunt. "If there's something that I can do to be proactive, it might hurt my body, it might hurt my physical beauty, but I'm going to be alive," said the 24-year-old.

In Jolie's case, the procedure is said to have dropped her chance of developing breast cancer from 87 percent to under 5 percent. "I can tell my children that they don't need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer," said Jolie. "For any woman reading this, I hope it helps you to know you have options." 

Read Jolie's entire op-ed at the New York Times.

 
Chris Gayomali is the science and technology editor for TheWeek.com. Sometimes he writes about other stuff. His work has also appeared in TIME, Men's JournalEsquire, and The Atlantic.

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