Angelina Jolie's Mastectomy

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Angelina Jolie's May 2013 announcement that she had undergone a preventive double mastectomy to decrease breast cancer risk has focused media attention on the practice of preventive mastectomy (prophylactic mastectomy). The actress has reported a family history of breast cancer. Her mother had breast cancer and died of ovarian cancer at age 56. Ms. Jolie also revealed that she has a gene mutation in the hereditary breast cancer risk gene BRCA1, placing her in a high-risk group for developing breast cancer in the future.

BRCA1 and BRCA2 are tumor suppressor genes. A mutation in these genes increases a woman's risk of both breast cancer and ovarian cancer. An increase in risk for some other cancers is also possible. While about 12% of women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime, that risk is multiplied fivefold in women with a BRCA mutation. This means that they have about a 60% chance of developing breast cancer. With the availability of testing for BRCA mutations, the incidence of preventive mastectomy (mastectomy in order to prevent from ever developing breast cancer) has dramatically risen in recent years. The procedure can lower the risk of developing breast cancer by up to 90%, according to research studies.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/9/2014