Angelina Jolie has written a powerful editorial in a US newspaper revealing her decision to have a double mastectomy.
The actress and director, who has six children (three adopted, three biological), explained that she decided to have both breasts removed after discovering she carried the cancer gene BRCA1.
Angelina, 37, discovered that carrying this gene upped her risk of breast cancer to 65 per cent and her risk of ovarian cancer, the disease to which her mother lost her life at 56, to 50 per cent.
Angelina writes about how her decision was made for her family. "We often speak of 'Mommy’s mommy'," she says. "And I find myself trying to explain the illness that took her away from us.
"They [her children] have asked if the same could happen to me. I have always told them not to worry, but the truth is I carry a “faulty” gene, BRCA1, which sharply increases my risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer."
Angelina details her treatment in the piece, explaining the operations she underwent to remove and reconstruct her breasts.
Though she's not the first celebrity to publicly discuss her experience, she is the first Hollywood star known for her body and sex appeal to open up about the choice. And though she writes about the decision in an objective way, it's obvious it was anything but easy.
"But I am writing about it now because I hope that other women can benefit from my experience."
She joins other women including Sharon Osbourne and Liberty X singer Michelle Heaton, who have also made this huge decision.
Michelle said that Angelina's choice to publicise her double mastectomy was "incredibly important" in raising awareness and giving encouragement to women in a similar situation.
"Imagine what impact somebody as huge as Angelina Jolie can have on this," she said.
"I really do think that the BRCA gene has only really come to light over the last year or two. It is a massive thing that women need to learn about and know that, if this runs in your family, you need to go and get tested because there are huge options and the options available are incredibly amazing - it shouldn't be too scary for you if you have the right information."
Wendy Watson, who founded the National Hereditary Breast Cancer Helpline, also praised Jolie for her decision to write publicly about her operation.
"It is excellent, because it is the highest profile you can get for it," she said. "It raises the profile for other women to look to if they have a family history and would benefit from being screened more frequently, or having surgery or having a genetic test," she said.
"She (Jolie) probably feels that undergoing the operation is common sense but it does take a certain amount of courage to face it."
BRCA1 and testing
A positive test result is rare. Though everyone has the BRCA1 gene (and also BRCA2, TP53 and PTEN, all also linked with breast cancer), it is only when there is a mutation in these genes that the risk of breast and ovarian cancer increases.
The blood test that Angelina took allows doctors to discover if there is a fault or mutation with the gene. And in her case, a fault was found, giving her the opportunity to take action.
According to the NHS, for most women, the risk of breast cancer is around 10 per cent, but for those who test positive to this mutated gene, the risk can be up to 85 per cent - frighteningly high.
The test is available on the NHS for women who are thought to be at risk. If a member of your immediate family has had the disease it's likely you will be tested. If the link isn't so close, doctors will require a strong family history, such as several members of your extended family, or early-onset diagnoses to justify a test.
Find out more about the BRCA1 and 2 tests.
[Related: Sharon Osbourne's double mastectomy was a 'no brainer']
[Related: Michelle Heaton reveals 'disgusting' post-mastectomy tweets]
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