HEALTH

Angelina Jolie double mastectomy was preventative move against breast cancer

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(AP/ABC7) - Angelina Jolie says that she has had a preventive double mastectomy after learning she carried a gene that made it extremely likely she would get breast cancer.

The Oscar-winning actress and partner to Brad Pitt made the announcement in the form of an op-ed she authored for Tuesday's New York Times under the headline, "My Medical Choice." She writes that between early February and late April she completed three months of surgical procedures to remove both breasts.

Jolie, 37, writes that she made the choice with thoughts of her six children after watching her own mother die too young from breast cancer.

"My mother fought cancer for almost a decade and died at 56," Jolie writes. "She held out long enough to meet the first of her grandchildren and to hold them in her arms. But my other children will never have the chance to know her and experience how loving and gracious she was."

She writes that, "They have asked if the same could happen to me."

Jolie said that after genetic testing she learned she carries the "faulty" BRCA1 gene and had an 87 percent chance of getting the disease herself.

She said she has kept the process private so far, but wrote about with hopes of helping other women.

"I wanted to write this to tell other women that the decision to have a mastectomy was not easy. But it is one I am very happy that I made," Jolie writes. "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."

Phone and email messages left by The Associated Press late Monday night seeking comment from Jolie representatives were not immediately returned.

Local doctor also undergoes double mastectomy

Local doctor Christy Teal made that same decision two years ago.

Her mother was twice diagnosed with breast cancer. And although she does not have the BRCA1 gene, she knew she wanted to reduce her risk of getting the disease.

“I had this nagging feeling in the back of my mind that just wouldn't go away, that someday I might face breast cancer and just as soon as I did the surgery that nagging went away,” she says.

Women who have inherited the BRCA1 gene are about five times more likely to get breast cancer.

The head of Medstar Washington Hospital Center's breast center says Jolie made the right decision.

“What I'm hoping is it will raise awareness of genetic risks for Breast Cancer and have more women ask the questions,” says Marc Boisvert, medical director Center for Breast Health. “Am I at risk for this genetic cancer and what do I need to take care of it?”

Jolie is anything but private in the details she provides, giving a step-by-step description of the procedures.

"My own process began on Feb. 2 with a procedure known as a 'nipple delay,'" she writes, "which rules out disease in the breast ducts behind the nipple and draws extra blood flow to the area."

She then describes the major surgery two weeks later where breast tissue was removed, saying it felt "like a scene out of a science-fiction film," then writes that nine weeks later she had a third surgery to reconstruct the breasts and receive implants."

Many women have chosen preventive mastectomy since genetic screening for breast cancer was developed, but the move and public announcement is unprecedented from a star so young and widely known as Jolie.

She briefly addresses the effects of the surgery on the idealized sexuality and iconic womanhood that have fueled her fame.

"I do not feel any less of a woman," Jolie writes. "I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity."

She also wrote that Brad Pitt, her partner of eight years, was at the Pink Lotus Breast Center in Southern California for "every minute of the surgeries."

Jolie, daughter of Hollywood luminary Jon Voight, has appeared in dozens of films including 2010's "The Tourist" and "Salt," the "Tomb Raider" films, and 1999's "Girl, Interrupted," for which she won an Academy Award.

But she has appeared more often in the news in recent years for her power coupling with Pitt and her charitable work with refugees as a United Nations ambassador.

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