This week Breast Cancer made the headlines when one of the most beautiful and courageous women on the global stage went public with her decision to have a double mastectomy. Angelina Jolie is well known for her work as an actress, her dedication as a UN Ambassador and for the lovely Jolie-Pitt clan. When I read her piece in the New York Times it was clear that she is a mother of six, first and foremost, and she would really do anything for her family. Nevertheless, her decision to go public will help the women who find themselves in a similar situation, coping with the psychological and emotional aspects.
After all, she is Angelina Jolie: smart, beautiful, talented, caring and she is married to Brad Pitt (how many of us had Legends of the Fall posters on our walls in the 90's?). Knowing that a mastectomy doesn't make Angelina any less of a woman (or him, any less interested in or in love with her) will reassure the thousands of women who find themselves in a similar situation. Whether its because they had elective surgery, as Angelina did, or because they had breast cancer and surgery was part of the treatment plan. Angelina's decision to speak out was incredibly brave and generous. I hope it will give strength to others who face the emotional and psychological issues that come with the experience.
The ripple effect doesn't stop there, either. There are also plenty of women whose mothers, aunts and grandmother's had breast cancer in the past. They might worry that it runs in the family and on some level, worrying about something (even if its in the back of your mind) can bring a lot of unnecessary stress and anxiety into your life. The truth is, only 5-15% of cancers are genetic, the rest are due to a variety of risk factors, many of which include diet, exercise and lifestyle habits.
If family history is a cause for concern, most women will now be aware that DNA testing is available to them. If they decide to take the test, an overwhelming majority may discover that they do not carry the mutated gene as their relative's cancer was likely caused by something else. And if they do test positive for the gene mutation, they will have several options including regular screening as well as elective surgery. At the end of the day, it will depend on their doctor's advice and on the risk level that the individual is willing to live with. Let's not forget that breast cancer survival rates have increased significantly over the past two decades thanks to early detection and breakthrough treatments.
For more info on statistics visit CancerResearchUK