Angelina Jolie said in her New York Times op-ed published late Monday, that she underwent a preventive double mastectomy earlier this year after the genetic testing showed that she carried the "faulty" BRCA1 gene.
"My doctors estimated that I had an 87 per cent risk of breast cancer and a 50 per cent risk of ovarian cancer, although the risk is different in the case of each woman," Ms Jolie wrote in a op-ed piece published in The New York Times.
"Once I knew that this was my reality, I decided to be proactive and to minimise the risk as much I could." Ms Jolie's treatment began in February and finished on April 27, with the procedures remaining secret until the Oscar-winning actress chose to go public by penning a first-person piece on her decision for the Times.
"I am writing about it now because I hope that other women can benefit from my experience," Ms Jolie, who is 37, wrote.
"Cancer is still a word that strikes fear into people’s hearts, producing a deep sense of powerlessness. But today it is possible to find out through a blood test whether you are highly susceptible to breast and ovarian cancer, and then take action."
In her article, Ms Jolie detailed the various stages of the medical procedures involved with a mastectomy, including the major surgery, which she said "does feel like a scene out of a science-fiction film". "But days after surgery you can be back to a normal life," she wrote.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer for women in Australia, with one in eight being diagnosed by the age of 85. However, hereditary breast cancer is rarer than many people think, with only 5 to 10 per cent of cases occurring in women whose families have a gene fault.
A clinician at the hereditary cancer clinic at Prince of Wales Hospital in Sydney, Lesley Andrews, said in Australia the test for the mutations was not covered by Medicare.
"Genetic testing for BRCA1 and BRCA2 is individually funded by each hospital,” she said. “The criteria for women to be offered testing usually includes that there is at least a 10 per cent chance that a mutation will be identified".
This usually meant a woman would have two or more relatives diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer, with one aged younger than 40 when she developed the disease.
If a woman was not covered under the hospital policy she could pay for the test herself, which usually cost about $2500.
The head of the breast cancer risk management clinic at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Kelly-Anne Phillips, said about one in five Australian women found to have the breast cancer gene mutations went ahead with a preventative mastectomy.
"Having a risk-reducing mastectomy is the most effective way of reducing risk," she said. "It can take her from an 80 per cent risk of breast cancer to a… lower risk than an average woman".
Chief executive of Cancer Australia Helen Zorbas said outcomes from reconstructive breast surgery could be “extraordinary”, with no obvious outward signs when a woman was in clothing or swimwear. She said most women who chose to have preventative surgery chose to have a reconstruction.
"However, women I have met who have chosen not to have reconstruction are equally happy with their decision in terms of their mastectomy because they have reduced their anxiety and concern about their risk of breast cancer,” she said.
Despite the mastectomies and subsequent breast reconstruction being a difficult process, Ms Jolie said she was pleased she had gone through with it.
"The decision to have a mastectomy was not easy. But it is one I am very happy that I made. My chances of developing breast cancer have dropped 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...
"For any woman reading this, I hope it helps you to know you have options. I want to encourage every woman, especially if you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, to seek out the information and medical experts who can help you through this aspect of your life, and to make your own informed choices".
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