Angelina Jolie both stunned and impressed the world with the shocking announcement that she had undergone a double mastectomy earlier this year. She did so, the Oscar-nominated actress explained, after testing positive for the mutant form of the BRCA1 gene, which drastically increases a person’s chance of breast cancer. It’s the disease that took her mother’s life at age 56 after a 10-year battle. After the removal of her breasts, she details in her New York Times op-ed piece, she elected for breast reconstruction surgery — the results of which, she writes, “can be beautiful.”
Was her decision too drastic? Wetpaint Entertainment spoke with Ellen Matloff, Director of Genetic Counseling at the Yale Cancer Center, who gave us her thoughts on Angelina's life-changing choice.
Wetpaint Entertainment: There are already some who are saying Angelina Jolie’s decision was too drastic — that testing for the mutant gene doesn’t necessarily mean someone will get breast cancer. Do you agree?
Ellen Matloff: I don’t agree. It was not drastic at all. If a patient carries the mutation of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene, we know for a fact they have a very high risk of developing breast cancer. If they don’t elect for the surgery, they must undergo frequent surveillance and live with the daily fear they’re going to get it. That’s a really large burden, and it’s the reason many elect to have the surgery. So I think her decision was completely reasonable, and we should offer her nothing but support.
She also wrote in detail about her breast reconstruction surgery with the use of implants...
Yes. We now have excellent reconstructive options available for women who choose that route.
Angelina Jolie is considered one of the biggest sex symbols in the world. What message is she sending with this announcement?
I think the message is here is that being a sex symbol has nothing to do with having your own breast tissue. It has to do with being a strong, intelligent, beautiful person.
As someone who works with cancer patients every day, what are your hopes that her announcement will bring?
I would hope for all men and women — because breast cancer affects men, too — that it inspires them to speak with their own family members about who had cancer. What form of the disease did they have, and at what age were they diagnosed? From there, I hope they take the opportunity to reach out to a certified genetic counselor to see if they’re at an increased risk. That would be my hope.