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Why Angelina Jolie Pitt had Surgery

Why Angelina Jolie Pitt had Surgery  Find more Blogs about Genetics and Genealogy at FamilyTree.comAngelina Jolie Pitt wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times in which she explained her decision to have her ovaries surgically removed. This decision came after a previous decision to have her breasts removed. The reason she made those choices has to do with genetics and her risk of cancer.

Genealogists often put together family trees. The news about Angelina Jolie Pitt can be seen as a reminder to genealogists that it is also important to put together a medical family tree. The diseases and conditions that “run in the family” are vitally important to know about.

In 2013, Angelina Jolie Pitt revealed that she had a double mastectomy as a preventative measure. More recently, she shared her experience undergoing a laproscopic bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy. It as also as a preventative measure. The point was to remove those organs before she developed cancer (rather than wait until a cancer diagnosis).

University of Utah Health Care provides some clarity about the genetics that connect with a high risk of the development of breast or ovarian cancer. There are two genes that are specifically related. They are called BRCA1 and BRCA2.

Those who have a mutation in either the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene have a higher risk of developing hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. The mutation in these genes is rare (in the general population). A doctor can have a genetic test preformed in order to determine if an individual patient has a mutation on his or her BRAC1 or BRAC2 gene.

Angelina Jolie Pitt was aware of her family’s medical history. Her mother had both breast cancer and ovarian cancer. Her maternal grandmother (her mother’s mother) had ovarian cancer. Each was diagnosed with cancer at younger than average ages. Angeline Jolie Pitt was able to take this information into account when she made her medical decisions.

Not all women who have a family medical history that is similar to Angelina Jolie Pitt’s will make the same decisions that she made. The University of Utah notes that there are “many options” to address the risk of cancer in people who have a mutation on their BRAC1 or BRAC2 gene.

Most women don’t write an op-ed piece for the New York Times about their decision to have a mastectomy or oophorectomy. These are very personal and private decisions. It is good that she did share her story, though. She has brought attention to how important it is to know your family medical history.

Image by Gage Skidmore on Flickr.

Related Articles at

* Breast Cancer Gene Can Be Passed Paternally

* New Predictive Test for Heredity Pancreatic Cancer Launched

* Create Your Medical Family Tree

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