Two years after her double mastectomy, actress and humanitarian Angelina Jolie said she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to avoid the risk of ovarian cancer.
The glamorous wife of actor Brad Pitt and the mother of six children said in an op-ed column in the New York Times on Tuesday that she had the surgery last week after blood tests showed what could have been early signs of the disease that killed her mother at age 56.
Jolie, 39, who carries a mutation in the BRCA1 gene that increases her risk for breast and ovarian cancer, said she went public with her decision so women would know about options available to them.
“I went through what I imagine thousands of other women have felt. I told myself to stay calm, to be strong, and that I had no reason to think I wouldn’t live to see my children grow up and to meet my grandchildren,” she said.
“The most important thing is to learn about the options and choose what is right for you personally,” added Jolie, who won an Academy Award as best supporting actress for her 1999 role in the film “Girl Interrupted” and has traveled the globe as United Nations ambassador for refugees.
The actress said the surgery showed no signs of cancer, but it triggered early menopause, and she will not be able to have more children.
“I feel feminine, and grounded in the choices I am making for myself and my family,” Jolie wrote. “I know my children will never have to say, ‘Mom died of ovarian cancer.’”
Dr. Robert DeBernardo, a gynecologic oncologist at the Cleveland Clinic’s Ob/Gyn & Women’s Health Institute, said surgery to remove the ovaries and fallopian tubes to reduce the risk of cancer was becoming an option more women are choosing.
But it does not totally eliminate the risk of the disease because ovarian cancer can also strike the cells that line the abdomen, he said.
“Someone like Angelina has reduced her risk of cancer as much as possible,” DeBernardo said. “But you can’t get it to zero.”
Jolie said Pitt flew to her side from France hours after she told him about the test.
“The beautiful thing about such moments in life is that there is so much clarity,” she said. “You know what you live for and what matters.”
Jolie’s announcement of her double mastectomy in a New York Times op-ed piece in May 2013 was widely lauded by celebrities, cancer survivors and medical professionals.
In Tuesday’s column, Jolie said she had a progesterone IUD inserted in her uterus to help maintain hormonal balance and help prevent uterine cancer.
“It is not possible to remove all risk, and the fact is I remain prone to cancer,” she said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says about 20,000 women get ovarian cancer, and about 14,500 die from it every year in the United States.