Cancer is a terrible thing, everyone can pretty much agree on that. We often hear of the battles against the disease, but it’s not every day we hear of a story involving someone taking extreme actions to prevent it.
That’s what makes Angelina Jolie’s news about electing to remove her ovaries and tubes so compelling. Here’s a celebrity who knows she carries a mutation in the BRCA1 gene, lost her mother, grandmother and aunt to cancer, and didn’t want to face the 87 per cent risk of breast cancer or 50 per cent risk of ovarian cancer in front of her.
So in May 2013 she underwent an elective double mastectomy and now she has elected to take out her reproductive organs as well. (She kept her uterus since she has no family history of uterine cancer.) The result? She’s now a 39-year-old woman who is in menopause and will need hormones to continue balancing her system in the years to come. And as she wrote in her New York Times op-ed, she knows for sure that her kids will never lose her to ovarian cancer.
For Jolie, the payoff was priceless, but the decisions to undergo these surgeries were not lightly made. Jolie had many discussions with her doctors, did her research and weighed it all out. Since she already had her kids, removing her ovaries wasn’t the same type of game-changer as it would be for a female in her early twenties. In fact most doctors don’t even recommend the procedure until the patient is at least 35-years-old.
See? Factors. That’s why every woman who does the blood test for the BRCA1 gene mutation should consider herself a special case, and not make any decisions until having thorough conversations with doctors and counselors.
And if you do opt for Prophylactic Ovary Removal? After the surgery, the estrogen levels in your body will drop and you’ll enter what’s called surgical menopause. Unlike regular menopause, in which your estrogen levels taper out over time, surgical menopause can cause you to feel the effects of menopause in a more intense way. That includes hot flashes, fatigue, mood swings, vaginal dryness and irritation.
For those who opt to have their ovaries removed, doctors will prescribe hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for the symptoms of surgical menopause, and sometimes keep their patients on these treatments for years — right up until their 50s when natural menopause would occur. In this case a combination of estrogen and progestin will be used — estrogen to balance the body, and progestin, which removes the risk of estrogen causing cancer in the uterus.
Learn more in the video, above.