Angelina Jolie’s decision to have a double mastectomy to prevent breast cancer may have stunned fans of the Oscar-winning actress, but doctors say her choice is shared by many other women with a high genetic risk for breast cancer.
Jolie, who described her surgery and three-month recovery at length in an opinion piece in the New York Times on Tuesday, says she hopes her experience will encourage other women with a family risk of breast cancer to get tested.
Cancer experts said that Jolie’s treatment was an informed choice - reducing her risk of developing cancer from 87 percent to less than 5 percent - and hope that it can help frame the discussion for patients facing a similar decision.
For years, researchers have been warning about increases in the use of preventive mastectomy among women with lesser risks than Jolie. A study by Dr. Michel Sable of the University of Michigan Medical School last November found that 70 percent of breast cancer patients who receive a double mastectomy don’t have a clinical reason for getting the procedure.
In 90 percent of those cases, fear that a cancer might come back was the reason for the decision, the researchers found.
Dr Isabelle Bedrosian, a surgical oncologist at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, calls that approach “overkill,” as there is no proof that a double mastectomy helps women who have had breast cancer in one breast.
That was not the case with Jolie, who did not have cancer but sought treatment because of her family’s high risk of breast cancer.
“Angelina Jolie’s situation is very different. In her context, I think moving ahead with a double mastectomy is appropriate and is fully justified oncologically as well,” she said.
Jolie tested positive for a harmful mutation in one of the BRCA genes, making her about five times more likely to develop breast cancer than women who do not carry this mutation, according to the U.S. National Cancer Institute.