Angelina Jolie started the conversation about genetic testing, breast cancer and estrogen.
You have likely heard the story of how Angelina Jolie courageously and openly discussed her BRCA1 gene screening (NY Times Op-Ed March 24, 2015 A23) and the actions she took to lower her risk of breast and ovarian cancer. She has raised awareness for millions of women and has given them the courage to openly discuss genetic testing as a possibility for themselves.
I want to add three other points about her story that may help you or a family member if you are faced with a similar issue to make Angelina Jolie’s story even more impactful.
The first point is that it is usually not mentioned that BRCA, particularly the BRCA2 gene mutation, is associated with an up to 22 times greater likelihood of developing pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic cancer is on the rise and likely to overtake colon cancer as the number two cause of death due to cancer by 2020. If you have that gene, be sure and talk with your doctor about screening that can be done for your pancreas.
The second point is that Angelina lets us know she is taking estrogen. Because her ovaries were surgically removed at age 39, she is in early menopause. This is a very important point to emphasize because going into menopause before age 46 and not beginning estrogen is associated with up to a 70% increase risk of Alzheimer’s disease, a 23% increased risk of heart disease and potentially, an increased risk of breast cancer. Very importantly, women with BRCA who choose to take estrogen do not appear to be at any increased risk of breast cancer over women with BRCA who do not take estrogen. Taking estrogen will also help Ms. Jolie to maintain her youthful appearance.
The third point is that Ms. Jolie had her tubes and ovaries removed but not her uterus. In this situation women typically have to take progesterone with their estrogen to help prevent an increased risk of uterine cancer that comes with taking estrogen alone.
Instead, Angelina had a progesterone secreting IUD inserted to protect her uterine lining without taking oral progesterone. This off label use of that type of IUD is something that you can discuss with your doctor as well. I discuss this and many other new information about estrogen in my Menopause Breakthrough 5-week online program.
Angelina Jolie is a great role model for women. She turned her challenges into life-saving wisdom for millions of women and also highlight that a woman is not defined by either menopause or her health condition.