The news of Angelina Jolie has struck a cord with many women around the world who are at an increased risk for breast cancer and contemplating their options to lower that risk. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, breast cancer is the most prevalent cancer for women in the United States and the leading cause for cancer death for all races and origins. It is reported that in 2009, 211,731 women were diagnosed with breast cancer and 40,676 died from complications related to it. Making the risk even higher for a portion of the female population is a mutation on the BRCA1 gene. After seeing her mother die from cancer at the age of 56, removing the increased risk by having a double mastectomy seemed like a viable option for Jolie. A beautiful, young and vivacious women, many are questioning whether the move was too drastic, or completely warranted considering the consequences of her genetics.
In recent decades the BRCA1 gene mutation has been identified to increase a women’s risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. Although there is differences in what the gene means to the individual woman, it greatly increases the chance that over the course of their lifetime they will have to fight to survive against it. What seems like a exaggerated move to many made complete sense for Jolie as her odds of developing breast cancer went from 87% to less than 5% after her breast removal surgery.
Although there have been advances made in breast cancer treatment, prevention is the best assurance against it. Having a mastectomy is a very complex procedure and one that should not be entered into lightly. It is something that does not come without its own sets of risks and alters the self image for many women. However, with many advances being made for breast enhancement and reconstruction, the aesthetics of the surgery may not override the benefit of it for those who are not willing to take the chances of struggling with breast cancer in the future.
The decision to have the mastectomy for Jolie was based on her own experiences with her mother and her desire to not let history repeat itself for her children. Until there are better advancements in the cure for breast cancer, a breast cancerappears to be the one step which can empower a woman to fight against it before the fight has even begun. When a woman whose personal appearance is as celebrated as Angelina Jolie is willing to take the leap of faith, it has potential consequences for women around the world who are considering making the same move. Whether it will be enough to save her from the same battle millions of women undertake, or the one her mother lost, in the future remains to be seen. It is a decision that being thrust onto the world stage through media coverage, which will be debated and scrutinized for years to come.