Recently Angelina Jolie announced that she underwent a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery in order to reduce her risk of developing breast cancer, she said she "hopes other women can benefit from my experience".

When she found out what her odds of developing cancer were, Jolie became proactive and decided to reduce her risk to a minimum. Following the two procedures, her risk of developing breast cancer is now 5%, a huge drop from 87%.

She said she underwent the procedures because her mother died of cancer at the early age of 56. Jolie inherited the faulty BRCA-1 gene - which increases a person's risk of breast and ovarian cancers. In fact, according to scientists at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, carrying the BRCA1 mutation may also be linked to other cancers.

Therefore, her doctors concluded that she was at very high risk of developing the cancer and suggested ways to reduce that risk.

Angelina Jolie Cannes 2007
Angelina Jolie hopes that talking about her experience will help other women at risk

Dr. Lisa Lilienfield of the Kaplan Center for Integrative Medicine in McLean VA, said:

"By sharing her story, Angelina offered each of us an excellent opportunity to reflect upon our own health situation and options.  If you have a strong history of breast cancer in your immediate family and are concerned about your own genetic risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer, you may want to seek genetic counseling with a specialist."

Many women can significantly benefit from genetic testing if they want to find out their risk of developing breast cancer.

According to Inova's guidelines, women who can benefit from genetic counseling for breast cancer should have at least one of the following characteristics:

  • A family history of early-onset breast cancer
  • Breast cancer in more than two relatives on one side of the family
  • Various primary tumors
  • Multiple cancers
  • Ashkenazi ancestry
Inova carries out BRCA-Gene Testing, a form of testing that can identify specific gene mutations that cause certain breast and ovarian cancers. Women who have a harmful BRCA-gene mutation are at a 65% higher risk of developing breast cancer in their lifetime.

A different test called the "Estrogen-Metabolism Assessment" is also available which can evaluate how efficiently a woman can metabolize estrogen - which is linked to breast cancer risk.

Dr. Lilienfield said:
"Certain types of estrogen metabolites can increase one's risk of developing breast cancer and worsen your prognosis if you do develop cancer; by proactively measuring the levels of these metabolites in a person's blood or urine, we can determine whether medication changes or lifestyle modifications, such as diet and exercise, are warranted."

Detection is imperative in treating breast cancer and recently, thanks to new technologies, detecting has become a lot easier.

3-D Mammography is a novel way of giving radiologists the ability to see tissue inside the breast layer by layer; it is much more accurate and more efficient in detecting breast cancer than a regular mammography.

Dr. Lilienfield concluded: "Of course there are many other things that you do to improve your health and lower your cancer risks, such as reducing your stress level, getting sufficient exercise, sleep and balanced nutrition, including the nutritional supplementation that you may need."

How to prevent breast cancer

Whilst detection is key in treating cases of breast cancer, there are other ways to reduce the risk of breast cancer.

According to data published in Cancer Epidemiology, breast cancer risk can be reduced through physical activity.

Research published in the journal CANCER also identified a link between physical activity and a reduced risk of breast cancer, revealing that women can reduce their breast cancer risk by exercising and maintaining a healthy body weight.

A study presented at a conference in Boston suggested that regularly taking low doses of aspirin may halt breast cancer from growing and spreading.

Written by Joseph Nordqvist