Seattle, Washington (TFC) – Angelina Jolie is once again in pop-culture headlines regarding her preemptive surgeries to prevent cancer. She famously opted to have a double mastectomy in 2013. Angelina told The Daily Telegraph in a recent interview that she “loves being in menopause . . . I feel older.” At only 41 years old, her early menopause is a side effect of electing to have her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed earlier this year. Jolie has a defective BRCA1 gene and a strong history of women with cancer in her family. The choices she made, although unusual, are not against medical advice. According to some medical experts, choosing a salpingo-oophorectomy is an option for some women who have both the gene and a history of cancer in their family. Many other factors must be considered, including age and whether or not the woman wants more children.
Marcheline Bertrand, Angelina’s mother, died of cancer in 2007 at age 56 after battling with breast and ovarian cancer for several years. Angelina wrote about the rationale and difficulty of her decision in an op-ed in the New York Times in March. She made clear that this was a highly personal decision and that “there is more than one way to deal with any health issue.” Removal of her breasts, ovaries, and fallopian tubes have reduced her high risk of cancer from 87% to about 5%. While these surgeries were the right choice according to Jolie’s team of doctors, naturopaths, and other health professionals, there are some concerns about the level of influence celebrities have on the health decisions of the public.
The influence of Angelina’s gene testing and subsequent surgeries is being dubbed The Angelina Effect by TIME Magazine. “‘I think we will see an increase over the next months for sure in genetic testing for breast cancer,’ says Rebecca Nagy, a genetic counselor at Ohio State University’s medical center and president of the National Society of Genetic Counselors.” Thousands more women are more likely to rush to have themselves tested for BRCA1 and other genetic predispositions for cancer. The trouble is that this defective gene only accounts for a small percentage of cancer cases, so this screening method is not the right choice for everyone. Chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, Otis Brawley, expressed concern that women may over-react and undergo unnecessary surgeries, which he points out is a reflection of high-profile cancer awareness campaigns and what he calls “the pinking of America.”
While science still works to find definitive answers to the cancer crisis, many diet and nutrition experts point to reasonable ways to prevent cancer that do not involve radical surgeries. Even in the case of defective genes, there is no established formula that can determine who will develop cancer and who will not. While evidence is still anecdotal and inconclusive, there are studies that suggest that a healthy diet consisting of plenty of vegetables may protect against a wide variety of human cancers. With new research coming out that suggests the ability of cannabis to kill cancer cells, perhaps our society will develop better prevention, screening, and treatment options that do not require the preemptive removal of body parts and internal organs. Only time will tell if these procedures will keep Jolie cancer-free.