Yesterday’s New York Times featured an op-ed by actress and director Angelina Jolie in which she revealed that she had undergone a preventative double mastectomy and explained her reasons for doing so. Usually a more private celebrity, Jolie struck many with her complete candor in talking about her personal health matter. But her letter should come as no surprise, as it’s just one more example of her propensity to speak out on matters of societal importance. In this case, her open and heartfelt letter drove home the value of informed choice in health care.
Jolie explained that her mother died of ovarian cancer at the age of 56. Understanding the heightened hereditary risk of cancer she faced as a result, the mother of six underwent a blood screening to determine whether she carried a genetic mutation that would greatly increase her chance of developing cancer. This screening, the BRCA test, is only offered to people who qualify, either through having a personal history of breast or ovarian cancer or a close relative with a history of those cancers. Unfortunately, insurance plans vary with regard to whether this test is covered, and it can cost anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars.
Jolie’s test results showed that she did in fact have a mutation of the BRCA1 gene, giving her an approximately 87 percent risk of breast cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer. Armed with this information, Jolie had the opportunity to proactively address her cancer risk. She made the difficult decision to have her breasts removed in a series of procedures over three months, reducing her breast cancer risk to less than five percent.
The moral of Jolie’s story can be summed up in this paragraph from her op-ed piece:
“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.”
Educating yourself on your health care options can be essential to obtaining a positive outcome. Whether it’s finding a doctor with a proven record for effective care, choosing a facility with a high treatment success rate, or opting for a procedure with the fewest risks, your health is ultimately in your hands. Whether you’re a man or a woman, heed Jolie’s advice: find out about your family health history, have your personal health evaluated, and proactively seek out your best path to a healthy future.
Have you undergone a preventative health procedure? Tell us how you feel about the decision below.
Sources: nytimes.com, cnn.com, mayoclinic.com, and cancer.gov