Angelina Jolie's decision to undergo a double mastectomy should empower women, says Coppafeel co-founder Maren Hallenga

Angelina Jolie has been hailed as an inspiration after making the brave decision to undergo a preventative double mastectomy to reduce her chances of developing the disease.

The 37-year-old actress made the decision to have her breasts removed after the discovery that she carries the BRCA1 gene, with doctors estimating she had an 87 per cent risk of breast cancer.

The brave move to open up about her own surgery has today won praise from breast cancer campaigners, for helping to raise awareness and encourage women in a similar situation to be aware of their options.

Co-founder of breast cancer charity Coppafeel, Maren Hallenga, who has undergone cancer gene testing herself, hailed Angelina for highlighting the issue and encouraging women to be breast aware.

"I think, especially with someone like Angelina Jolie who's a strong female figure with such a huge following, it's good she's speaking out about her experience and surgery like this," she told us.

"It has a positive impact on other women to check regularly. If you do have breast cancer in your family and you're offered the test, then you could take it.

"But even if you're not offered the test, then the very least you can do is check your boobs regularly."

Just making the decision to be tested is a huge, emotional undertaking and Maren admits it certainly takes courage to take that step.

She decided to have the gene tests after her identical twin sister Kristin was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008.

"When Kris was diagnosed, I was immediately offered the gene test as I'm her identical twin," she explained.

"It's not an easy decision. What do you do with that information? What if you have the gene?

"But you're outweighed by the possibility. Having watched my sister receive the diagnosis, it was a no-brainer."

Fortunately for Maren, she was told she didn't carry the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.

"Thankfully, I don't carry any of the faulty genes that doctors know about," she said.

"Yet just because I don't carry the gene, I still have a one in eight chance of getting breast cancer."

She explained that's why it's still so important for women to be breast aware - whether they carry the gene or not.

"So that doesn't make me think I shouldn't still check my boobs regularly, or think I'm never going to get it," she said.

"If I had of had the gene, I would have had preventative surgery.

"In the end, the test makes decisions for you; you're faced with a better idea of where you're going.

"Because I was told I don't have the gene, it's even more reason to keep checking and monitoring."

Maren added that while gene testing can mean women, such as Angelina, are given the chance to undertake preventative surgeries, it's important to remember not all breast cancers are hereditary.

"If you do get breast cancer it doesn't necessarily mean it's hereditary. It's not just because someone in your family has it," she said.

"At Coppafeel we educate the importance of getting to know your boobs. The most important thing is to go to your doctor if you're concerned for any reason."

Maren, who along with sister Kris heads up Coppafeel, said that while decisions such as Angelina are scary - they should empower us all too.

"The last thing we want is for stories like these to scare women," she said.

"[Angelina's story] should empower women. It should make us think just how courageous that move is."

For more information on Coppafeel! and being breast aware, visit www.coppafeel.org

[Related: Michelle Heaton praises Angelina Jolie after double mastectomy]
[Related: Should you be tested for BRCA1 and BRCA2?]

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