WHAT HAPPENED? (1)
On February 16, 2013, American actress Angelina Jolie had a preventative double mastectomy. She learned that she carried a mutation of the BRCA1 gene, increasing her chance of developing breast or ovarian cancer.
Her doctor estimated that she had an 87% of developing breast cancer, and a 50% chance of developing ovarian cancer. Jolie's mother died of ovarian cancer in 2007 at the age of 56.
Jolie wanted to tell her story to let other women know that the decision was not easy to make, and acknowledge that it might not be the right choice for everyone. But, she encouraged women with a history of breast and ovarian cancer to get screened and learn more so they know their options and can make the right choice for them.
Jolie said that she ultimately made the decision for her children.
ANGELINA'S STORY (2)
Angelina's mother fought her cancer for nearly a decade before dying at the age of 56, which ultimately lead her to get screened and make her medical decisions.
On April 27, she finished 3 months of medical procedures, keeping quiet about them until sharing her story in a New York Times Op-Ed in May. She shared her story hoping to educate other women, and allow them to take some control back from cancer.
Jolie said her mother only lived to meet one of her children, but they all talk about "mommy's mommy", and why she wasn't here with them. So, when she figured out that there was a chance the same could happen to her, she knew she had to act, and made the decision to have a double mastectomy.
The first of 3 procedures was at the very beginning of February called the "nipple delay" - it is used to rule out disease in the area behind the nipple. It causes a lot of pain and bruising, but allows you the chance to save the nipple.
Two weeks later, on February 16, she had the major procedure where the breast tissue was removed, which took nearly 8 hours. Then, 9 weeks later, she underwent the reconstruction of the breasts using implants.
Jolie acknowledged that this is expensive, and called to make it more accessible, saying it is a priority for women to get the screening done and the subsequent life-saving treatment, regardless of their location or income. The testing can cost over $3,000 in the United States.
She ended her piece by saying that life throws a lot of challenges, but this was one she didn't need to be afraid of because her decision put her in control.
THE JOLIE EFFECT
Survivor.net describes her public choice as "one of the most remarkable moments in the history of public health and cancer prevention". Her decision still has lead millions of women to think about genetic risk, a part of breast cancer that previously hadn't been involved in the conversation. (3)
In fact, after she shared her story, what's known as the "Jolie effect" occurred, and numerous studies show that a sharp increase took place in preventative mastectomies. (3)
Though the main timeframe for increased screenings, referrals and preventative mastectomies was June through November 2013, just after she shared her story, it didn't drop off after it left the news. Referrals increased from 201 in January through June of 2012 to 388 in January to June of 2014. (4)
It is safe to assume that a large portion of women learned important, life-saving information about their genetic risks of cancer because of Jolie's procedure, and her brave decision to share her story.
PREVENTING BREAST CANCER
Though Angelina's preventative choice was made on a genetic basis, still, nearly 1 in 8 women will have breast cancer in their lifetime. Though there is no surefire way to prevent breast cancer, there are many lifestyle habits that are shown to decrease the risk of the disease.
Maintain a healthy weight: Being overweight or obese increases your risk of breast cancer, especially for women who gain weight after menopause or as adults later in life. (5)
Exercise regularly: 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise are recommended per week. (5)
Stand more: Women who spend 6+ hours sitting per day have a 10% greater risk for breast cancer than women who sit for less than 3 hours per day. (5)
Limit alcohol intake: Women who had 2-3 drinks per day have a 20% higher chance of breast cancer than women who don't drink at all. (5)
Avoid or limit hormone replacement therapy (5)
Another key element of breast cancer prevention is getting your breasts looked at, both by yourself and by a professional.
Women should routinely perform self-breast exams, including looking at your breasts at different angles in the mirror, and feeling them for lumps or bumps. Performing this examination regularly will make it far more evident when something looks or feels different, which you can bring up with your physician. (6)
Sometimes, we see celebrities as belonging in their own buckets: They are here to entertain us, not to educate us. But, that is not the case. People with large platforms absolutely should use their voice to share important information on politics, world events, and in this case, health.
Though Angelina Jolie pops into our heads as an actress first and foremost, for some, she might be the reason that their risk of breast cancer is all but entirely alleviated, or the reason a child's mom is going to be around for much longer. Talking about your health on a gigantic public platform is terrifying, especially when it is a topic that can sometimes be seen as taboo. But, 7 years ago, Jolie had a surgery that allowed her to take control of her health back, and a few months after, she told her story, allowing other women to do the same. And that's the tits.