Tuesday May 14, 2013
Actress Angelina Jolie published an op-ed in the New York Times today that has caught the eye of the cancer community nationwide.
In her column she explains in intimate detail her choice to undergo a preventive double mastectomy, which has reduced her risk of breast cancer from 87 percent to under 5 percent. Ms. Jolie says she made her decision following her mother’s lost battle with cancer at age 56, and the discovery that she carried the BRCA1 gene, which sharply increases an individual’s risk for developing breast and/or ovarian cancer.
Ms. Jolie says she chose “not to keep my story private because there are many women who do not know that they might be living under the shadow of cancer. It is my hope that they, too, will be able to get gene tested, and that if they have a high risk they, too, will know that they have strong options.” Fortunately for women with a strong family history of breast cancer, the Affordable Care Act requires all new insurance plans to cover the costs of counseling and testing for breast cancer risk – tests that can be unaffordable for many women at more than $3,000 (which Ms. Jolie acknowledged in her op-ed). That means women can access no-cost genetic counseling and BRCA testing that can help inform important conversations between patients and their doctors about their cancer risk.
Ms. Jolie made a very personal decision after consulting with her doctors, family and friends. American Cancer Society Chief Medical Officer Otis Brawley reacted to the op-ed with a thoughtful blog post about the importance of high-risk individuals having these conversations with genetic specialists and knowledgeable health professionals so that they can make their own informed decisions. I invite you to read both Ms. Jolie’s piece and Dr. Brawley’s reaction.