Will Angelina Jolie's Honesty Save Lives? - FOX 35 News Orlando

Will Angelina Jolie's Honesty Save Lives?

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A Hollywood A-lister takes the world by surprise by opening up about a very private matter.  Angelina Jolie revealed Tuesday she chose to have a double mastectomy to lower her risk of getting cancer.  Jolie's not the first woman to do it, but she may be the most high profile.  Her decision is touching off a serious conversation about the preventive measure.

When you think of Angelina Jolie, you probably think of her beauty and sex appeal first, especially if you're a man.  She's built an extremely successful career, in part on those traits.  So imagine the bravery it took to reveal she had both her breasts removed, to protect her health and to be able to raise her children.      And she very well may end up saving other women.

It was the best-kept secret in Hollywood.  Angelina Jolie went under the knife, not for cosmetic surgery, as so many other actresses do, but to prolong her life.  "It's very brave, to go out there, being a public person, you know a famous actress, and to tell people that she's had a mastectomy," Robyn Lawrysh-Plunkett told Fox 29.  Lawrysh-Plunkett knows that kind of bravery.  Last year surgeons removed both of her breasts.  "It was scary but I really felt in my heart that it was the right decision."

Like Jolie, she had not been diagnosed with breast cancer.  But both women share the same trait:  they have a genetic mutation that makes them far more likely to get breast and ovarian cancer.  "It was very stressful, thinking all the time when am I going to get this cancer?" Lawrysh-Plunkett explained.  "Not if I'm going to get it.  I kept thinking, when am I going to get it?  When am I going to get it?"

Jolie wrote an op-ed article for the New York Times, which appeared Tuesday, explaining her decision.  Her doctors told her she had an 87 percent risk of developing breast cancer, and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer, which killed her mother.  The best way to prevent that from happening was to remove her breasts.  "Angelina Jolie being such a public figure, and young and beautiful and full of life, family, career, I think it allows this to be open for discussion and not such a scary thing," Dr. Kristin Brill, a Cooper University Hospital Breast Surgical Oncologist told Fox 29.  Lawrysh-Plunkett agreed.  "I think it's going to make a lot of women think that maybe it's the right decision for them."

The question now for women: who should consider it?  Roughly only one percent of women carry the defective gene, so most of us will never have to make that difficult decision.  But Jolie's honesty could prompt more genetic screening.  "So she may be an inspiration to some women who are thinking about being a little bit more proactive," Dr. Brill said hopefully.  "Maybe even just investigating their own breast cancer risk."

Most insurance policies do cover the cost of genetic screening, and the test that will tell you if you have that defective gene.  It's called BRCA testing.  And it will be covered under the new health care law, when it takes effect.

Jolie mentioned she's also at greater risk for ovarian cancer.  The best protection against that would be to have her ovaries and uterus removed, which could be next.

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