We've been longtime fans of Angelina Jolie—from her work as both an actress and a director, as well as her humanitarian efforts, she's an inspiration to us all. Recently, however, she has been in the news for a completely different reason: as the unlikely spokesperson for cancer awareness and prevention. Last May, she wrote an article in the New York Times about the double mastectomy (breast removal) she had undergone after finding out from a blood test that she carries a faulty BRCA1 gene. For those of you going, "huh?" here are some quick facts about this gene from the National Cancer Institute:
- BCRA1 and BCRA2 are specific genes that produce tumor suppresor proteins. In other words, they're the genes responsible for making sure your body doesn't get cancer, by helping to repair damaged DNA.
- When faulty, they cannot repair the DNA therefore leaving the body susceptible to other "genetic alterations that can lead to cancer."
- 55 to 56 percent of women with the BCRA1 gene mutation will get breast cancer, compared to just 12 percent of women without the mutation.
- 39 percent of women with the faulty gene will develop ovarian cancer, compared to just 1.4 percent normally.
This is why Angelina made the decision to remove her breasts as a preventative measure. It's also why she announced yesterday in an op-ed piece that she had also chosen to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes in a procedure known as a laparoscopic bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy. It was a bold decision, but it was one made only after much research and consultation with a variety of medical professionals. Because of this surgery, Angelina will not be able to have any more children, and her body, at age 39, has now gone into menopause prematurely due to the absence of necessary hormones. But this procedure will also probably end up saving her from cancer and allow her to live a long and healthy life with her family. It's important to note that Angelina isn't endorsing this surgery as the answer for everyone—each person's case is different and there are plenty of alternatives to consider. The main points to take away from this piece is that as collegiettes it's important to:
- Get yourself tested for the BRCA gene, especially if you have a family history of cancer (Angelina's mother passed away from cancer).
- Know your risks—talk to your doctor! Angelina's story should hopefully encourage you to get the conversation started.
- Make sure to get all your preventative screenings done as needed (mammograms, pap smears, checking your breasts for lumps, etc.).
Together we can help take that extra step to ridding the world of cancer!