I don’t think it gets much more personal than Angelina Jolie’s revelation that she had a preventive double mastectomy to dramatically lower her risk of breast cancer. Jolie managed to keep the procedure under wraps for months before The New York Times published her stirring Op-Ed piece on May 14.
Jolie’s film and human rights achievements duly noted, photographers stalk this woman around the clock to capture her unique beauty, feeding and fueling the public’s hunger for her. At 37, youthfulness, radiance, and glamour enhance her star power.
A positive genetic test for the BRCA1 mutation, in part, drove her decision for the procedure, she says. Her mother died from ovarian cancer in 2007 at 56. Within 2 weeks since the Op-Ed ran, Jolie’s aunt, 61—her mom’s younger sister, who also had the BRCA1 gene—died from breast cancer.
Given Jolie’s public persona, she might have opted to keep this secret to protect the “brand.” Her approach was to share the secret and potentially prolong her life and also, potentially, the lives of others.
Judging from comment threads on Jolie’s NYT piece and subsequent stories written by others, people get it. As we go to press on the June issue, American Medical News reports Jolie’s decision is raising awareness and spurring inquiries about testing.
Jolie vanquishes the stigma of making this choice. Her legacy includes public health activism.
In a recent Medscape Today News piece, Eric Topol, MD, editor-in-chief, Medscape, calls Jolie’s story “the epitome” of individualized medicine, noting how she “took charge by getting the test done, getting the critical information about whether she would be at risk for breast cancer and how high that risk would be, and then making a key decision of preventive surgery.”
I recently spoke with Dr Topol, who serves as director, Scripps Translational Science Institute, chief academic officer, Scripps Health, and professor of genomics, The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, Calif, about his vision for the future of health care. The interview will be in CLP‘s July issue, and also as a podcast on our site.
Diagnostics and treatment for patients with cancer is becoming increasingly individualized/personalized, incorporating genomics and companion diagnostics. Follow CLP’s online news or subscribe to CLPrime for breaking news such as this: bioMérieux Receives FDA Approval for THxID-BRAF Companion Diagnostic Test for Melanoma, Transgenomic Test Screens Patients with Metastatic Colorectal Cancer for RAS Mutations, State Licensure Expands for BRAF Assay from Beckman Coulter Genomics, and Roche Gets FDA Approval for First Companion Diagnostic to Detect Gene Mutation Linked with a Type of Lung Cancer.
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