Angelina Jolie’s surgery bring words of caution from experts

Angelina Jolie, at the Academy Awards, said she went public with her procedure to help other women. Her mother, actress Marcheline Bertrand, died of ovarian cancer when she was 56.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Angelina Jolie’s decision to have a double mastectomy because of a rare gene has generated great interest.

But experts are urging caution regarding testing and prophylactic surgery.

“This does not mean every woman needs a blood test to determine their genetic risk for breast and/or ovarian cancer,” said Dr. Otis W. Brawley, the American Cancer Society’s chief medical officer. “What it does mean is women should know their cancer family history and discuss it with their regular provider.


“If appropriate, they should be referred to and have the opportunity to discuss their risk and their options with a genetic specialist.”

“A woman with a mutation of known significance must consider her quantifiable risk in making the very personal decision to have her breasts and ovaries removed or pursuing other options, such as more extensive screening for breast and ovarian cancer,” Brawley said.

“The American Cancer Society board of directors has stated that ‘only very strong clinical and/or pathologic indications warrant doing this type of preventive operation,’ ” he continued. “Nonetheless, after careful consideration, this might be the right choice for some women.”

In an op-ed piece in the New York Times under the headline “My Medical Choice,” the Oscar-winning actress said she underwent surgical procedures to remove both breasts between February and April.

Jolie, 37, said that genetic testing discovered she had the BRCA1 gene, which increased her chances of developing breast cancer to 87%.

Jolie said she went public with her procedure to help other women. Jolie’s mother, actress Marcheline Bertrand, died of ovarian cancer when she was 56.

Brad Pitt, Jolie’s partner for the last eight years, was with her “every minute” of the surgeries at the Pink Lotus Breast Center, she wrote.

Pitt addressed his fiance’s decision in a statement to the Weekly Standard.

“Having witnessed this decision firsthand, I find Angie’s choice, as well as so many others like her, absolutely heroic,” he said. “All I want for her is to have a long and healthy life, with myself and our children.... This is a happy day for our family.”

Jolie praised Pitt in her op-ed piece and said his support was vital.

“I am fortunate to have a partner, Brad Pitt, who is so loving and supportive,” she wrote. “So to anyone who has a wife or girlfriend going through this, know that you are a very important part of the transition.”

Jolie has appeared in numerous films, including 2010’s “Salt,” the “Tomb Raider” films and 1999’s “Girl, Interrupted,” which earned her an Oscar.

During a chat on this afternoon, Anna Gorman discussed her struggle with the condition and noted that the kind of treatment Jolie received is not available to all.

“Not everyone has the same health access, but doctors and proponents of the Affordable Care Act say that the new health law will help. There are also support groups available — including Facing Our Risk Empowered, which was helpful to me when I first found out about being BRCA1-positive,” she said in the chat.


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Times staff writer Christie Dzurilla contributed to this report.