How Angelina Jolie’s Double Mastectomy Shed Light on the BRCA1 Gene

The world was abuzz when news first broke out last month about Angelina Jolie’s decision to have a double mastectomy. Her decision to undergo the preemptive surgery earlier this year was due to the fact that she tested positive for BRCA 1.


What is BRCA1?

If you haven’t gone scrambling to your computer to Google what it means, here’s a short background:

There are types of tumor-suppressing  genes and these include BRCA1 and BRCA2. The full names of these genes are breast cancer susceptibility gene 1 and breast cancer susceptibility gene 2. Normally, these genes aid in stabilizing the cell’s DNA and preventing uncontrollable cell growth. However, if harmful mutations exist in the BRCA genes, these can lead to either breast or ovarian cancer.

Though BRCA1 and BRCA2 are very similar, it is the harmful mutations in the former that are more dangerous since breast cancers caused by this gene are harder to treat. It is unlike the tumors caused by BRCA2 mutations, which can be treated using hormone therapies.

What are the chances?

The National Cancer Institute has stated that about 12% of the female population will most likely develop breast cancer at some point in their lives. For women who have been tested positive for a harmful BRCA mutation, the risk of developing breast cancer is multiplied. For Jolie, whose mother Marcheline Bertrand died of ovarian cancer in 2007 and whose aunt recently died of breast cancer, the chances of developing either is even higher, which is why she decided to undergo the preventive surgery that would minimize her risk of getting the disease.

In the New York Times article that contained Jolie’s revelation, she explains how her children were a major factor in her decision to have double mastectomy. She didn’t want them to fear that they would lose her to breast cancer. After her operation, she reveals that her chances of developing the disease has significantly dropped from the doctor’s estimate of 87% to under 5%. Jolie urges women especially those with a family history of having breast or ovarian cancer, to take initiative and look up information on the topic and to seek advice from medical experts. She hopes to inspire them to make informed choices as they deal with this difficult aspect of life.

Knowing your family’s medical background is important…

If you are adopted or are estranged from your family, it’s best that you do some investigation regarding your family’s medical background so you can take the necessary precautions against diseases like hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. If you need help searching for family online, you can use the search by zip code function of When you find your biological family, you can learn about family conditions that have been passed on from generation to generation, including what are the odds of you getting a condition like diabetes.

The decision to get double mastectomy is not for everyone. Still it is better to be aware of the risks and the steps you can take to minimize that risk so you can live your life to the fullest.


Based in San Diego California, Tiffany Matthews is a professional writer with over 5 years of writing experience. She also blogs about travel, fashion, and anything under the sun at, a group blog that she shares with her good friends. In her free time, she likes to travel, read books, and watch movies. You can find her on Twitter as @TiffyCat87.

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