Angelina effect: Why the actress had ovaries, fallopian tubes removed

WATCH ABOVE: Angelina Jolie revealed Tuesday she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed last week after doctors found early signs of cancer. Jennifer Palisoc reports on the “Angelina Jolie effect.”

Almost two years ago, Angelina Jolie told the world she had a double mastectomy after she tested positive for carrying the BRCA gene mutation.

On Tuesday, the 39-year-old Hollywood actress revealed that she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed last week.

Doctors detected early signs of cancer. In the fallout of the surgery, Jolie went into premature menopause and won’t be able to have any more children.

“I went through what I imagine thousands of other women have felt. I told myself to stay calm, to be strong, and that I had no reason to think I wouldn’t live to see my children grow up and to meet my grandchildren,” she wrote in a candid New York Times piece.

Story continues below advertisement

“I feel deeply for women for whom this moment comes very early in life, before they have had their children. Their situation is far harder than mine,” she said.

READ MORE: Angelina Jolie reveals she had ovaries and fallopian tubes removed

Jolie tested positive for carrying a gene mutation – called BRCA 1 – that significantly increased her risk of breast cancer. The gene is a rarity but if women have the harmful mutation, it can increase the odds of breast cancer by five times.

In Canada, about one in 250 women carry the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation that puts them at an 80 per cent risk of breast cancer, according to Dr. Kelly Metcalfe, a University of Toronto professor and cancer prevention expert at Women’s College Hospital.

The latest health and medical news emailed to you every Sunday.

“It’s significantly elevated compared to the average woman,” Metcalfe told Global News.

READ MORE: Removing ovaries cuts risk of cancer death in women with BRCA gene

One in 250 women have the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes in Canada. The average woman has an 11 per cent risk of breast cancer, Metcalfe said.

But if a woman has one of these harmful genes, their risk increases by 80 per cent. They also face an elevated risk of ovarian cancer. The typical woman has a one per cent risk of ovarian cancer – with BRCA1, that risk jumps to 60 per cent. With BRCA2, the risk is 40 per cent.

Story continues below advertisement

Metcalfe says that’s why doctors recommend that women with these genes remove their ovaries by age 40 or once they’ve completed childbearing.

“The problem with ovarian cancer is we don’t have good screening to detect these cancers early, not like we have with breast cancer screening where we can catch cancer early, it’s treatable and the survival rates are high,” she said.

For ovarian cancer picked up in the later stages, the five-year survival rate is below 50 per cent.

READ MORE: Double mastectomy could save the lives of women with BRCA gene, study says

Right now, about two-thirds of Canadian women with the BRCA gene get their ovaries removed. Women’s College Hospital research suggests that ovary removal surgery can lower the risk of death by 77 per cent.

A double mastectomy in this group of women carrying the gene could cut the risk of dying in half.

Metcalfe suggests the “Angelina effect” is legitimate.

“She’s really spreading the message,” Metcalfe said of Jolie.

“There was an increased awareness, more women were accessing the information online, there was an increased interest in women having genetic testing who had put it off previously. They understood the effects and the benefits associated with genetic testing,” she said.

Story continues below advertisement

READ MORE: Breast cancer and genetics – Angelina Jolie’s double mastectomy

It’s exactly what Jolie was going for when she penned these honest takes on protecting her health.

“I wanted other women at risk to know about the options. I promised to follow up with any information that could be useful, including about my next preventive surgery, the removal of my ovaries and fallopian tubes,” she wrote.

Jolie lost her mother, aunt and grandmother to cancer.

– With files from John R. Kennedy

Sponsored content