Angelina Jolie preventive surgery: Doctors discuss the relevance

  • Shobhan Singh, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Mar 25, 2015 09:38 IST

After undergoing a preventive double mastectomy (surgical removal of breasts) two years ago, actor Angelina Jolie underwent another surgery in which her ovary and fallopian tube were removed.

The mother of six said in an op-ed column in the New York Times that she underwent these surgeries to guard herself against the possibility of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer, which she was found to be highly susceptible to develop.

Jolie’s earlier decision had elicited reactions both in favour and against, and with the second surgery the question that arises is: how far should once go to prevent cancer? Is it advisable to mutilate the body to prevent a disease that is a distant possibility, but also almost a certainty?

While many experts said Jolie took a wise decision, others said the decision displayed fear and paranoia.

The filmmaker underwent BRCA 1, a diagnostic test for breast cancer susceptibility before she decided to go for the double mastectomy. The results showed she had 87% chances of developing breast cancer and 50% chances of ovarian cancer.

"Jolie’s BRAC1 tests showed mutations and in such cases there is a 90% possibility that these women will develop breast and ovarian cancer. It is a wise decision and well within best medical reasoning to do undergo the surgeries she did," said Dr Kiran Coehlo, gynaecologist, Hinduja Healthcare Surgical, Khar.

But there are those who think the actor took a drastic step. "As a doctor, I would not recommend such surgeries unless it is clear that it is not the disease, but the fear and paranoia that is ruining and driving the person to the extent that her life is compromised," said Dr Nagraj Huilgol, head of radiation oncology, Nanavati Hospital, Vile Parle.

Jolie, however, in the article said, "I didn’t do this 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." She said her decision was influenced by the fact that three female members of her family, including her mother, had ovarian or breast cancer.

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