Angelina Jolie and the Rise of Preventive Mastectomies

“Angelina Jolie And The Rise of Preventive Mastectomies.” By Nancy Shute, NPR.

Angelina Jolie just became part of a medical trend: More women are deciding to have their breasts removed to reduce the risk of cancer. Over the past decade, doctors have noticed a big increase in the number of women choosing prophylactic, or preventive, mastectomies. Some, like Jolie, have a genetic mutation that makes it much more likely that they will have breast cancer. Her mother died of the disease at age 56. Jolie is 37. She wrote about her decision in The New York Times.

But BRCA genetic mutations are relatively rare, and the vast majority of women who choose prophylactic mastectomy aren’t facing that elevated risk. Many of those women overestimate their risk of getting breast cancer, researchers say. “We found that women who have cancer in one breast overestimate their risk of cancer in the other breast by sixfold,” says Todd Tuttle, chief of surgical oncology at the University of Minnesota. “It’s very exaggerated.” Tuttle first noticed about a decade ago that women in his practice who had been diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer were asking to have both breasts removed, rather than have a breast-saving lumpectomy. So he looked to see what was happening in other parts of the country, and found that it was a national trend.

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