In 2013, Angelina Jolie Pitt had a preventative double mastectomy. Last week, she had her ovaries removed.
Why? Angelina has the BRCA1 gene mutation, putting her at an 87% risk of breast cancer, and a 50% risk of ovarian cancer. Having previously lost her mother, grandmother, and aunt to cancer, she knew first-hand the power cancer had, and wanted to do everything she could to reduce her risk.
Angelina’s doctors had agreed that the best option for reducing her risk of ovarian cancer was to get her ovaries removed. It was recommended she do this about a decade before the first onset had occurred in her closest relative. Her mother was diagnosed at 49, and Angelina is 39 this year.
Angelina had been mentally preparing herself for the procedure and the ramifications if would have on her physically and emotionally, but she had not planned her surgery yet. Then, she got the results of her annual CA-125 test, which monitors ovarian cancer. Her test was normal, but her doctor was worried because she had elevated inflammatory markers — and the CA-125 test misses early-stage ovarian cancer 50% to 75% of the time.
She went in for more tests. Five days later, she got relieving news: her PET/CT scan was clear, and her tumor test was negative.
However, her risk was still high, and Angelina knew the timing was clear. Angelina opted for a preventative laparoscopic bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy. Her husband, Brad Pitt, flew in from France to be with her. A small (benign) tumor was discovered on one ovary, but there was no sign of cancer in her tissue.
As a result of her surgery, Angelina is now in early menopause, and will be unable to have any more children.
“I feel deeply for women for whom this moment comes very early in life, before they have had their children. Their situation is far harder than mine. I inquired and found out that there are options for women to remove their fallopian tubes but keep their ovaries, and so retain the ability to bear children and not go into menopause. I hope they can be aware of that.”
About 20,000 women will get ovarian cancer every year. Angelina made the decision that was best for her, after thorough research and discussion with medical professionals. Preventative measures like Angelina’s are not necessary for every woman with the BRCA1 mutation, and every woman needs to make the decision that is best for her.
We couldn’t agree more with how Angelina ends her op-ed in New York Times: “Knowledge is power.”
Read Angelina’s full op-ed in the New York Times here.