Angelina Jolie’s bold decision to have her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed is only matched by her bold decision to talk about it so publicly. Angelina has already talked openly about having a BRCA gene mutation, the death of her mother from ovarian cancer, and her double mastectomy two years ago.
For any women, being told that you have a BRCA gene mutation is life-changing information. The gene mutation increases a woman’s chances of developing ovarian cancer to around 50 per cent. With low survival rates for ovarian cancer, it is a weighty pressure.
Not only is a woman’s own health at risk, so is the health of many of her female relatives. She might receive the information before having had the chance to have children herself and therefore face an agonising decision as to whether to wait, or take preventative action now. If she has already had children, she faces the guilt of having possibly passed a life-threatening gene mutation on to her children, and the thought that she might not be there for their futures.
With no proven screening programme available for ovarian cancer, increasing symptoms awareness is vital. Women experiencing the persistent and frequent symptoms of bloating, abdominal pain, difficulty eating or needing to wee more, should see their GP.
But many women who know they have the BRCA gene mutation are not prepared to live with the ‘watch and see’ approach to their lives, and preventative surgery is currently the only other option available. Preventative surgery doesn’t eradicate the risk of ovarian cancer completely, but it does significantly reduce it. It isn’t an easy option – it involves major surgery and an early onset menopause with the associated risks and side effects that they both involve. But for many women, it does present enormous peace of mind and a release from constant anxiety about their future. And for those women, who now include Angelina Jolie, that is reason enough for undergoing such surgery.
Dr Simon Newman, Head of Research
- Read the news on the BBC
- Get information on familial ovarian cancer including risks & treatment
- Get familial ovarian cancer information for GPs including our training module
- Find out about our research project on genetic testing