Angelina Jolie has come out with a rather brave op-ed in the New York Times this week. She chronicles her own decision to have a preventative surgery to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes (she has previously written about her choice to have a preventative double mastectomy to reduce the risk of breast cancer). Breast cancer and ovarian cancer run in her family and blood-work revealed some possible early warning signs. There are many interesting scientific and ethical questions here - how do we understand cancer risk? what does it mean to promote preventative surgery that has its own risks? How ethical is this treatment if only a select few are wealthy enough to afford it? Jolie does acknoeldge that this isn't the only way to manage these risks. On the whole though, I respect her bravery in bringing these issues public. It's not often we hear an international sex symbol talking about the experience of going through menopause early. Cancer does not spare celebrity and it's refreshing to hear an honest account of how Angelina Jolie and her family came to reckon with her specific set of risks and vulnerabilities. Men and women are making these difficult choices all the time, all over the world.
I did not do this solely because I carry the BRCA1 gene mutation, and I want other women to hear this. A positive BRCA test does not mean a leap to surgery. I have spoken to many doctors, surgeons and naturopaths. There are other 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.