By Wendy Widom
CHICAGO (CBS) — Today filmmaker and activist Angelina Jolie published an op-ed in the New York Times, describing her decision to undergo surgery to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes. Two years ago, Jolie underwent a preventive double mastectomy after discovering she was a carrier of the BRCA1 gene.
“Carriers have a significant risk of acquiring breast or ovarian cancer,” says Jessica Shepherd MD, Assistant Professor of OB/GYN at University of Illinois. Factors women consider prior to this surgery include the age a first-degree relative was diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer, as well as personal decisions related to marriage and childbearing. Jolie’s mother, aunt and grandmother died from cancer.
“If they are finished with childbearing, it’s a surgery that should be considered heavily,” Dr. Shepherd states.
Women who undergo surgery to remove their ovaries and fallopian tubes enter what Jolie calls “forced menopause.” As part of her post-operative treatment, Jolie now uses bio-identical estrogen, which she takes through a “little clear patch.” According to Dr. Shepherd, doctors do not yet know the risk factors for taking bio-identical hormones, which are not FDA approved.
Jolie discovered she was a carrier of the BRCA1 gene through genetic testing, a process that can cost $2,000 to $3,000. Those concerned that they are carriers of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene can apply with their insurance companies to receive partial or full coverage for genetic testing.
In her op-ed, Jolie encourages women to learn about their options. “Some women take birth control pills or rely on alternative medicines combined with frequent checks. There is more than one way to deal with any health issue. The most important thing is to learn about the options and choose what is right for you personally.”