Angelina Jolie's double mastectomy explained by doctor: Behind the brave decision
Angelina Jolie bravely dished on the details of her recent double mastectomy (and subsequent breast reconstruction) in an op-ed in the New York Times on Tuesday, a decision that she made after doctors pegged her risk at 87 percent for breast cancer and 50 percent for ovarian cancer.
Not only does the piece humanize the larger-than-life Hollywood personality. It also brings much-needed public attention to the topic of preventative breast health and genetic mutations that increase susceptibility.
"For any woman reading this, I hope it helps you to know you have options," Jolie writes. "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."
To find out which options are available to Houston women, CultureMap reached out to Dr. Tejal Patel, a breast medical oncologist and director of the high risk clinic at Methodist Cancer Center.
"The best thing you can do is be armed with information. What every woman should know about is her risk."
The average woman, Patel explains, has a one in eight risk of developing breast cancer by the time they reach 85 years of age. Those odds increase with mutated genes, such as BRCA1 (which Jolie carries) or BRCA2, as well as other factors like dense breast tissue, familial risk, multiple breast biopsies, amount of estrogen exposure and postmenopausal obesity.
"The best thing you can do is be armed with information," Patel says. "What every woman should know about is her risk."
Patel encourages women to talk with other females in their families about cancer occurrence and look at risk statistics, then take that information to doctors to determine a plan of action.
While there are preventative options besides the one that Jolie chose (anti-estrogen pills, frequent screenings, mammograms and breast MRIs, for example), Patel acknowledges that double mastectomies are an increasingly common decision to prevent breast cancer.
Access to expensive tests and procedures is a major factor for many women, but Patel notes that most insurance companies cover the costs and others will consider coverage with a letter of medical necessity from a physician.
As the average age for diagnosis drops ever-younger, Patel encourages women under 35 to perform self-breast examinations monthly, to receive a clinical examination once a year and to speak with doctors to determine risk — and sooner rather than later.