There are lessons we can learn from Angelina Jolie’s diary of a surgery, writes Katie Clift of the Queensland Cancer Council.
The diary, published in the New York Times, provides an intimate personal account of her decision to have her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed after being found to have early signs of cancer.
Most of you will also recall Angelina’s preventive double mastectomy in 2013, prompted by her high genetic risk and a family history of the disease, which tragically claimed the life of her mother.
Her decision attracted worldwide media interest and made many women feel anxious about the role of genetics in individual breast cancer risk.
Misconceptions and confusion can contribute to poor prevention, screening and treatment decisions, making it vitally important that women are informed of the facts.
It’s estimated that only around five to 10 per cent of all breast cancer cases, and about 10 to 15 per cent of ovarian cancer cases, occur due to an inherited gene change in BRCA1 or BRCA2 – meaning most women are not at genetic risk linked to BRCA1 or 2.
So what can you do about your risk, and finding out more about how genetics influence a diagnosis of cancer?
First of all, talk to your GP. To be well-informed, women must talk to a GP or health professional about their individual family history, and their personal risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
If you haven’t yet had the conversation with your GP, it’s important that you do. Discussing your individual risk with an expert could save your life, providing you with steps to prevent women’s cancers and detect them early, improving your chances of long-term survival.
Second, be breast aware. Check your breasts regularly and get screened. And if you notice changes in your breasts, see your doctor straight away.
Remember, if breast and ovarian cancer are diagnosed in the earliest stages, you have an increased chance of surviving into old age and avoiding premature mortality.
Third, do what you can to reduce your individual risk of cancer. Up to one third of all cancers are preventable through simple lifestyle choices like eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, getting regular exercise, avoiding alcohol and quitting smoking.
Fourth, share this article with a friend to help us clear up the confusion on genetics and cancer risk.
If you are one of the women in the minority group who might be at an increased genetic risk, your GP or specialist will be able to refer you in the right direction.
Find out more by downloading Cancer Council Queensland’s Code Pink Survival Kit at http://codepink.org.au/survivalkit/index.html and Do it, Live it, Beat it!
For more information, call the Cancer Council on 13 11 20.