What is the Jolie Effect?
- Some women carry gene mutations that put them at extraordinarily high risk for getting breast or ovarian cancer.
- Angelina Jolie has one of these mutations, the BRCA 1 gene mutation. Statistics for the BRCA gene mutation put her at an 87% lifetime risk of breast cancer and a 50% risk of getting ovarian cancer. Her mother, grandmother and aunt all carried the gene mutation and died of cancer. Her mother was diagnosed at age 49 and died at 56.
- To previve the risk, mutation carriers can choose to have surgery to remove the breasts and ovaries and tubes before cancer occurs. Angelina Jolie chose to have those surgeries.
- Because Angelina Jolie was open with the public about her choices to have risk reducing surgery to remove her cancer prone breasts, ovaries and tubes, more high-risk women than ever before are making the same choice. They call themselves “Previvors.”
I previved ovarian cancer. But unfortunately, I was not so lucky with breast cancer.
I did not know before hand that I had the BRCA gene mutation. My double mastectomy came with chemo. Angelina was able to have hers without it. Neither is easy. I had no choice, she did.
I am not sure which is harder. My optimism and false sense of control would have had me second-guessing all the way into the operating room – if I actually went ahead with removing non-cancerous breasts.
Cancerous breasts, of course, had to go. Decisions about the removal of my post-menopausal tubes and ovaries were not as hard. I was staring down the barrel of a 40% lifetime risk of ovarian cancer starting in my 40s, and I was 55.
I knew that game of Russian Roulette was not going to end well if I delayed – my grandmother died of the disease at 55. The breast removal choice would have been harder had it not been for cancer.
The Jolie Effect is that more women with cancer gene mutations are choosing to have double mastectomies to avoid cancer.
Those of us with one of these gene mutations say that if you live long enough, you will end up with a double mastectomy. Your only choice is if it comes without chemo (meaning before you get cancer). Surviving the aggressive type of breast cancer we get mandates aggressive chemo because, as my cancer surgeon said to me…
“Surgery alone won’t save you. This cancer is bad. You have to have chemo or you will die, and it will not be good.”
It is a brave choice to previve breast cancer by having your non-cancerous breasts removed. As a woman with debilitating peripheral neuropathy because of chemo, I applaud the previvors.