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Angelina Jolie has ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to reduce BRCA risk

30 March 2015
Appeared 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.

Two years ago, Jolie wrote for the same publication about her preventive mastectomy performed after identification of a BRCA1 gene mutation which predisposed her to both breast and ovarian 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.

19 December 2016 - by Anastassia Bolotkova 
Angelina Jolie's 2013 public announcement that she has the BRCA1</i> breast cancer gene led to a 64 percent increase in women seeking genetic testing for breast cancer...
25 April 2016 - by Dr Katie Howe 
Women with a mutation in the breast-cancer susceptibility gene BRCA1 may have reduced numbers of eggs left in their ovaries, according to a study led by Australian scientists...
22 February 2016 - by Helen Robertson 
More than 95 percent of younger women diagnosed with early-onset breast cancer are opting for genetic testing, a study has found...
25 January 2016 - by Isobel Steer 
Scientists have identified a mutation in the gene BRIP1 that triples a woman's risk of ovarian cancer...
26 October 2015 - by Lone Hørlyck 
Women who have used assisted reproductive technologies are over a third more likely to develop ovarian cancer than other women, a large-scale study finds...
17 August 2015 - by Dr Nicoletta Charolidi 
Researchers have found that tests for multiple breast and ovarian cancer risk genes can be used to inform treatment decisions for women with personal or family history for such cancers...
8 June 2015 - by Jenny Sharpe 
Researchers have called for mass screening of women in their 30s to detect cancer-causing mutations...
27 April 2015 - by Dr Indrayani Ghangrekar 
A US company has announced a low-cost genetic test for breast cancer...
22 September 2014 - by Jessica Ware 
The number of women in the UK being referred to breast cancer clinics doubled shortly after actress Angelina Jolie revealed she had a risk-reducing double mastectomy, a study has found....
15 September 2014 - by Dr Rachel Brown 
A leading scientist involved in the identification of the BRCA1 gene mutation has recommended that genetic screening of the BRCA genes should be routinely offered to all women aged 30 years or over....
28 April 2014 - by James Brooks 
Did Angelina Jolie's famous editorial in the New York Times a year ago inspire an overemphasis on genetic risk in breast cancer? Or has it saved lives by bringing the issue out into the open?...
28 May 2013 - by Chris Jacobs 
The news about Angelina Jolie opting for a double mastectomy to reduce her risk of breast cancer has undoubtedly raised concerns among women with a family history of the disease. Whilst this news has certainly raised awareness of hereditary cancer, there are two key points that it is important to emphasize...
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