Newspaper article International New York Times

Actress's Surgery Wise, Experts Say ; Angelina Jolie Pitt Feared Cancer If She Kept Ovaries and Fallopian Tubes

Newspaper article International New York Times

Actress's Surgery Wise, Experts Say ; Angelina Jolie Pitt Feared Cancer If She Kept Ovaries and Fallopian Tubes

Article excerpt

The actress had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed because she carries a genetic mutation that increases the risk of ovarian cancer.

Cancer experts said that the actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie Pitt was wise to have had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed last week because she carries a genetic mutation, BRCA1, that significantly increases the risk of ovarian cancer, a disease so difficult to detect that it is often found only at an advanced, untreatable stage.

They also said Ms. Jolie Pitt's decision to discuss her own choices so frankly would encourage women in similar situations to consider their own options. BRCA mutations cause about 5 to 10 percent of breast cancers and 10 to 15 percent of ovarian cancers among white women in the United States. It is unclear how common the mutations are in other racial and ethnic groups.

"Prophylactic removal of ovaries and fallopian tubes is strongly recommended in women before age 40 in BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutation carriers," said Dr. Susan Domchek, executive director of the Basser Research Center at the University of Pennsylvania, which specializes in BRCA mutations. "There is no effective screening for ovarian cancer, and too many women with advanced stage ovarian cancer die of their disease."

Writing for The New York Times's Op-Ed page, Ms. Jolie Pitt, 39, said that she had expected to have her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed, a procedure called a laparoscopic bilateral salpingo- oophorectomy, but that a cancer scare made her decide to undergo the procedure sooner. Her mother, aunt and grandmother died of cancer.

"To my relief, I still had the option of removing my ovaries and fallopian tubes and I chose to do it," she wrote.

Two years ago, she ignited a worldwide discussion about options for women at high risk for breast cancer when she wrote that she had had both breasts removed because BRCA1, the same genetic mutation that prompted her surgery last week, increased her risk of breast cancer.

Several doctors said that for women in similar situations, they generally recommend that ovaries be removed before breasts, but the cost is that women who do so go into early menopause and can no longer bear children. However, removing the ovaries substantially decreases a woman's risk of developing breast cancer. Also, breast cancer is generally more detectable and treatable than ovarian cancer.

"We're really quite pushy about oophorectomy," Dr. Domchek said. "And we talk about mastectomy as an option."

Experts said that some details mentioned by Ms. Jolie Pitt might not apply to all women with such mutations or might be characterized differently by doctors. For example, Ms. Jolie Pitt wrote that she was advised to have the surgery about 10 years before the age at which her mother was first diagnosed, which was 49. …

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