What we can learn from Angelina Jolie
Angelina Jolie’s decision to have her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to prevent cancer sends a clear message to all women – know your family history and the treatment options available for your risk factors.
The 39-year-old filmmaker and actress revealed Tuesday that she underwent surgery after tests found what could have been an early indicator of cancer. She shared her personal news in a public way, writing a New York Times op-ed. The surgery comes about two years after the mother of six had a preventive double mastectomy.
Dr. Eileen Morrison, obstetrician and gynecologist with Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, Ill., says that for most women the message that they have choices is a clear takeaway from Jolie’s experience.
“I often use the phrase ‘knowledge is power,’” Dr. Morrison says. “Once the information is known, only then can a woman make an informed decision about her own health. That may include preventive measures such as surgery or medication, or it could be closer surveillance. Either way, women have choices.”
Jolie underwent the surgeries in part because she carries a mutation in the BRCA1 gene that she says gave her “an estimated 87 percent risk of breast cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer.” Additionally, she lost her mother, grandmother and aunt to cancer.
After her double mastectomy, Jolie began to consider removing her ovaries and fallopian tubes by discussing options with doctors, researching alternative medicine, and mapping her hormones for estrogen and progesterone replacement. She thought she had more time to weigh all the alternatives, but two weeks ago she received the results from an annual test to monitor ovarian cancer.
Jolie’s doctor told her some inflammatory markers were elevated, which could be a sign of early cancer. She saw her surgeon that day and scans were performed. Those came back clear, as did a tumor test. Still, based on her research and discussions with her doctors, she decided to move ahead with the surgery to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes.
“I did not do this solely because I carry the BRCA1 gene mutation, and I want other women to hear this,” she wrote in the op-ed. “A positive BRCA test does not mean a leap to surgery. I have spoken to many doctors, surgeons and naturopaths. There are other options. Some women take birth control pills or rely on alternative medicines combined with frequent checks. There is more than one way to deal with any health issue. The most important thing is to learn about the options and choose what is right for you personally.”
At the end of her essay, Jolie again emphasized that she made her decision after careful consideration.
“It is not easy to make these decisions. But it is possible to take control and tackle head-on any health issue,” Jolie wrote. ” You can seek advice, learn about the options and make choices that are right for you. Knowledge is power.”
Taking control, seeking advice and learning about options are all important factors for women to be their own best health care advocates, Dr. Morrison says.
About the Author
Kathleen Troher, health enews contributor, is manager of public affairs and marketing at Advocate Good Sheperd Hospital in Barrington. She has more than 20 years of journalism experience, with her primary focus in the newspaper and magazine industry. Kathleen graduated from Columbia College in Chicago, earning her degree in journalism with an emphasis on science writing and broadcasting. She loves to travel with her husband, Ross. They share their home with a sweet Samoyed named Maggie.