A Defining Moment: Angelina Jolie and Her Disclosure of Preventive Mastectomy

Earlier this week Angelina Jolie went public with her decision to undergo a double mastectomy based on her genetic risk. As the New York Times frames the moment:

One of the defining moments in the history of breast cancer occurred in 1974 when the first lady, Betty Ford, spoke openly about her mastectomy, lifting a veil of secrecy from the disease and ushering in a new era of breast cancer awareness.

Now four decades later, another leading lady — the actress Angelina Jolie — has focused public attention on breast cancer again, but this time with an even bolder message: A woman at genetic risk should feel empowered to remove both breasts as a way to prevent the disease. Ms. Jolie revealed on Tuesday that because she carries a cancer-causing mutation, she has had a double mastectomy.

Breast cancer expert Dr. Jay Harness and others applauded the manner in which Ms. Jolie made informed decisions, saying it might influence women with strong family histories of breast cancer to seek genetic testing.

However, as discussed here and among breast cancer professionals:

Some doctors express worry that her disclosure could be misinterpreted by other women, fueling the trend toward mastectomies that are not medically necessary for many early-stage breast cancers.

As reported here based on a University of Michigan study:

Approximately 80 percent of women who underwent prophylactic mastectomy did not have clinical indications that would classify them as high risk for recurrence.

Dr. Harness will address these and other considerations in his Google+ Hangout today. Tune in.

[Image: Oli Scarff/Getty Images, Source: The New York Times]

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