Hollywood superstar Angelina Jolie has had a double mastectomy to reduce her chances of getting breast cancer and says she hopes her story will inspire other women fighting the life-threatening disease.
Jolie wrote in the New York Times on Tuesday the operation has made it easier for her to reassure her six children that she would not die young from cancer, like her own mother did at 56.
“We often speak of ‘Mommy’s mommy’, and I find myself trying to explain the illness that took her away from us. They have asked if the same could happen to me,” wrote Jolie, 37.
“I have always told them not to worry, but the truth is I carry a ‘faulty’ gene.”
The Oscar-winning actress said her doctors had estimated she had an 87 percent risk of breast cancer and 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer.
“Once I knew this was my reality, I decided to be proactive and to minimize the risk as much as I could. I made a decision to have a preventive double mastectomy,” she said.
Partner and fellow Hollywood star Brad Pitt was by Jolie’s side through three months of treatment that ended late in April, she said. The two got engaged last year.
Jolie said that even though she had kept silent about her treatment while it was going on, she hoped her story would now help other women.
“I choose not to keep my story private because there are many women who do not know that they might be living under the shadow of cancer. It is my hope that they, too, will be able to get gene tested.”
Breast cancer alone kills some 458,000 people each year, according to the World Health Organization. It is estimated that one in 300 to one in 500 women carry a BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 gene mutation, as Jolie does.
The anguish faced by Jolie is familiar to many Jewish families. The BRCA1 mutation is especially common among Jewish women, particularly those of Ashkenazi descent.
The gene is at the center of an ongoing Supreme Court case over a biotech company’s effort to patent the gene.
Her decision was hailed by breast cancer patients and charities.