Hollywood star Angelina Jolie has made an inspiring revelation in a New York Times op-ed article, My Medical Choice, on Tuesday. The 37-year-old underwent a preventive double mastectomy after learning she carries a high risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
“My mother fought cancer for almost a decade and died at 56. I carry a “faulty” gene, BRCA1, which sharply increases my risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer. My doctors estimated that I had an 87 percent risk of breast cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer, although the risk is different in the case of each woman,” she wrote. “Once I knew that this was my reality, I decided to be proactive and to minimise the risk as much I could. I made a decision to have a preventive double mastectomy,” she added.
The surgery involves removal of breast tissues, placement of temporary fillers and then reconstruction of breasts with an implant. The actor, who finished three months of medical procedure on April 27, is now sharing her story with the hope that other women can benefit from her experience.
Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague, who in March visited refugee camps in the Democratic Republic of Congo with Jolie, has hailed her decision: "I think she's a very brave lady ... she will be an inspiration to many." Pop star Michelle Heaton, too, spoke in support of the actor: "Imagine what impact somebody as huge as Angelina Jolie can have on this."
Angie also thanked partner Brad Pitt in the article: “I am fortunate to have a partner who is so loving and supportive. Brad was (there) ... every minute of the surgeries. We managed to find moments to laugh together.” A rare occurrence in India
Double mastectomy to reduce chances of getting breast cancer may be a common practice abroad, but it is almost nil in India. “Since Angelina’s mother had breast cancer, Angelina must have done a BRCA1 and BRCA2 cancer genetic testing, and she would have been tested positive in it. It’s a preventive cancer risk test. In the last five years, I have only had two people coming to me for such tests. In fact, here, even if women are tested positive for breast cancer risk, they don’t opt for a mastectomy ... they’d rather take the risk,” says Dr Rashmi Sharma, breast cancer specialist at Moolchand Cancer Hospital.
Dr VP Singh of Surgical oncology, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, however, feels that the problem is more deep-rooted.
“Firstly, in India, there’s a big stigma attached to mastectomy, and the cost of recontructive surgeries is very high. Also, there are a limited number of investigative facilities for breast cancer risk in India, and this test is quite expensive,” says Dr Singh. While investigative tests may shoot up to Rs 50,000, even the most economical double mastectomy could cost up to R1.5lakh.