Angelina Jolie Undergoes Double Mastectomy to Prevent Breast Cancer

Today’s New York Times op-ed section contained a piece by actress Angelina Jolie in which she makes a startling announcement:

I made a decision to have a preventive double mastectomy.

Jolie’s mother, actress Marcheline Bertrand, died at the age of 56 from ovarian cancer. Jolie underwent genetic testing and found that she carried the BRCA1 gene. Doctors estimated that this increased her risk of getting breast cancer to 87%, and her risk of ovarian cancer to 50%. As the mother of 6 children, she wanted to be proactive and to minimize the risk as much she could.

On February 2, she underwent a medical procedure called a “nipple delay.” Its purpose is to ensure that there are no cancer cells in the nipple and to increase the chance to save the nipples for reconstruction. Two weeks later, she had the bilateral mastectomy to remove the breast tissue. Temporary fillers (typically filled with saline) are placed. Nine weeks later, she underwent breast reconstruction with the use of implants.

Jolie maintains that she was able to keep up her work during this period.

She is coming forward in such a public way to help other women:

For any woman reading this, I hope it helps you to know you have options. I want to encourage every woman, especially if you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, to seek out the information and medical experts who can help you through this aspect of your life, and to make your own informed choices.

I choose 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.

Jolie is one of several women who have been open about having the BRCA gene and undergoing bilateral mastectomies because of it: Christina Applegate, Sharon Osbourne, and Kathy Bates.

If you want more information about the BRCA gene, take a look at our story about Sharon Osbourne which outlines the most important information you need to know about this topic.

For more information about breast reconstruction, go to the Resounding Health Casebook on the topic.


Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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