30 March 2015
ByAppeared in BioNews 796
In an article in the New York Times, Angelina Jolie reveals her decision to have her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed, in her on-going battle to reduce her risk of cancer.
In her most recent article, Jolie says she did not decide to have her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed 'solely because I carry the BRCA1 gene mutation, and I want other women to hear this. A positive BRCA test does not mean a leap to surgery.'
'The most important thing is to learn about the options and choose what is right for you personally,' Jolie added.
With her BRCA1 mutation carrying a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer, Jolie had been considering preventative surgery for a while. Two weeks ago, she decided to go ahead with it after a blood test showed slightly elevated levels of early stage cancer markers. Further tests eventually came back clear. But Jolie remained committed to surgery in light of both her mutation and strong family history of the disease.
Ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cancer among women in the UK, with over 7,000 new diagnoses a year, according to Cancer Research UK. While surgery to remove the ovaries and fallopian tubes is less invasive than a mastectomy, its after-effects are more severe, forcing women into an early menopause. Therefore, Jolie was keen to point out that alternatives are available, especially for those women who have not yet had children.
Charities hope that this recent announcement will increase awareness of ovarian cancer in women. They further anticipate a repeat of the 'Angelina effect' - the upswing in women seeking genetic testing and counselling observed after news of Jolie's double mastectomy surgery broke in 2013 (see BioNews 772).
Lester Barr, chairman of Genesis Breast Cancer Prevention, says that this surgical procedure 'is a very personal choice'. However, he adds, 'it is the only way to be completely sure that the risk of cancer is made as small as possible'.
Cancer develops when mistakes in our DNA lead to abnormal cells that begin dividing uncontrollably. BRCA1 and 2 genes normally act as 'tumour suppressors',producing proteins that can repair the DNA damage. Mutations in BRCA genes affect the normal functioning of these DNA-repairing proteins, increasing the chances of developing many types of cancer.
'If women know they have BRCA gene mutations, they can choose to take action before cancer develops, much like Angelina has,' Katharine Taylor, acting chief executive of Ovarian Cancer Action, commented. 'Her bravery to announce this news publicly could save lives.'
Most cases of breast cancer are not inherited, and less than three percent of breast cancers are due to mutations in BRCA genes. In the UK, women with a strong family history of breast and ovarian cancer are eligible for genetic testing on the NHS.