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Angelina Jolie’s fight with breast cancer

Testing positive to the BRCA gene fault opens up life-changing questions.

It took a brave Hollywood star for the world to wake up to the burden of the BRCA gene.

Burden, because women who carry the gene fault have a much higher risk of breast or ovarian cancer.

But thanks to medical research which isolated the BRCA1 and 2 faults, women in Angelina Jolie’s position are able to make informed decisions about their health. As Jolie wrote in the New York Times:

“Cancer is still a word that strikes fear into people’s hearts, producing a deep sense of powerlessness. Once I knew this was my reality, I decided to be proactive and to minimise the risk as much as I could.”

With a strong family history of cancer, Angelina Jolie decided to have genetic testing which found she carried the BRCA1 gene fault. Jolie chose to have a double mastectomy and hasn’t ruled out further radical surgery, including removing her ovaries, keenly aware that her mother died from ovarian cancer.

The head of our Cancer program, and cancer genetics expert, Professor Georgia Chenevix-Trench, has applauded the actress.

“It was a series of brave but very wise decisions: to have the genetic testing, to have the radical surgery, and then to speak out about the experience,” Professor Chenevix-Trench said.

Angelina Jolie chose an extreme path in response to this information; many women simply use the knowledge as a reminder to be more vigilant about monitoring their health,” Professor Chenevix-Trench said.

QIMR Berghofer researchers are working hard to try to narrow down a woman’s individual risk precisely so she can be armed with as much information as possible before deciding on a course of action.

“The more precise your estimate is, the better, but surgery is still a very difficult decision for women to make.”

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