Actress and humanitarian and special envoy of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Angelina Jolie has revealed she had a a laparoscopic bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy to mitigate any possibility of ovarian cancer. The only female organ that remains intact is her uterus.
“It is not easy to make these decisions,” she wrote in an opinion piece in the NY Times published Tuesday. But, Jolie said, “I know my children will never have to say, ‘Mom died of ovarian cancer.’”
The surgery, like the double mastectomy Jolie underwent in 2013, was preventative. She carries a gene mutation called BRCA1 that puts her at high risk for breast and ovarian cancers, and three women in her family have died of cancer.
Two years ago I wrote about my choice to have a preventive double mastectomy. A simple blood test had revealed that I carried a mutation in the BRCA1 gene. It gave me an estimated 87 percent risk of breast cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer. I lost my mother, grandmother and aunt to cancer.
After a blood test revealed high levels of inflammatory markers that could be signs of early cancer, Jolie underwent testing for an ovarian tumor. The surgeon who conducted the ultrasound was also the doctor for her late mother, Marcheline, Jolie wrote, and the two teared up when they saw one another.
Jolie details the moment she called her husband Brad Pitt:
I called my husband in France, who was on a plane within hours. The beautiful thing about such moments in life is that there is so much clarity. You know what you live for and what matters. It is polarizing, and it is peaceful.
The tests were negative, but Jolie opted for surgery anyway. Though there are several routes for preventing cancer in women with the BRCA1 mutation, Jolie and her doctors — both Eastern and Western — decided that removing her ovaries and tubes was best for her.
Jolie’s doctors urged her to act before the age of her mother, who was diagnosed at age 49:
My doctors indicated I should have preventive surgery about a decade before the earliest onset of cancer in my female relatives. My mother’s ovarian cancer was diagnosed when she was 49. I’m 39.