Angelina Jolie Pitt made her first public appearance at the Kid’s Choice Awards following surgery to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes. Two years ago, Jolie Pitt also underwent a double mastectomy. She had both procedures to lower her risk of getting breast and ovarian cancers. As science develops, especially knowledge of cancer, it has become more and more common for women to have preventative surgeries to decrease the risks of breast and ovarian cancers. However, while this is a brave decision for those who test positive for hereditary cancer genes and pre-cancerous tissue, it should not be a bandwagon practice that women opt for without legitimate reason.
Currently, genetic testing can identify several hereditary gene mutations that have been known to cause cancer. The two most commonly associated with breast cancer and ovarian cancer are the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Jolie Pitt, whose mother and grandmother died of ovarian cancer and whose aunt died of breast cancer, tested positive for the BRCA1 gene, as reported by The New York Times. Anyone who has a family history of cancer should be genetically tested for hereditary cancer genes to see where they stand and can decide on how to move forward.
The presence of these genes do not automatically equal cancer, however they do increase the person’s potential of developing cancers to numbers significantly higher than the average person. BRCA1 and BRCA2 increase the potential for developing gynecological cancers. The numbers vary from person to person, but Jolie Pitt had an 87 percent risk of breast cancer prior to her double mastectomy and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer before her recent surgery, according to The New York Daily News. Jolie Pitt was relatively high risk, but she elected to not immediately have the surgery to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes. Rather, Jolie Pitt logically monitored her risk by seeing a doctor regularly and undergoing various scans every few months. This is a legitimate option for high-risk patients.
Many at-risk women are successfully monitored by their physicians and do not develop cancer at all. Others are able to catch it in the early stages. There is no definitive path of what individuals should do after testing positive for a cancer-causing gene. Everyone is different and the patient and doctor should discuss every option.
Following a recent blood test that measures the level of the CA-125 protein indicated an increased risk, Jolie Pitt decided to have surgery, according to CNN. It is incredibly important that women not jump into these surgeries while they are still unnecessary.
Surgery comes with risks. When someone chooses to have surgery, the patient must sign documents stating knowledge of the possible consequences of surgery. The two procedures that Jolie Pitt had come with scars, early menopause and higher risks of heart disease and osteoporosis, according to The Auburn Journal. It is not something that one should take on unless genetics and regular testing give that person a reason, and all of the risks should be thoroughly considered and weighed against the benefits of possibly preventing cancer.
This is not a procedure that one can have undone, like many elective surgeries. One simply cannot get their body parts back, and that must be considered at length. This is especially true for younger women who test positive for BRCA or other cancer-causing genes, as surgery eliminates the possibility of traditional pregnancy and childbirth.
The surgeries that Jolie Pitt had are not for everyone. This should not be a fad. It is not something that one can show off to friends like a new tattoo. At-risk women should consider surgery as an option, but remember that surgery is not the only option.
Becca Turner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org