Brave act

5/20/2013

Actress takes the spotlight as way to help other women.

Actress takes the spotlight as way to help other women.

When celebrities are in the news, it's often because they're hungry for publicity as a way to fuel their careers.

Oscar-winning actress Angelina Jolie sought publicity for another reason.

The 37-year-old recently shared the story of her decision to opt for a preventive double mastectomy procedure after learning she carried a gene that sharply increased her chances of breast cancer.

Jolie's mother had breast cancer and died of ovarian cancer at age 56, and her maternal grandmother also had ovarian cancer, all proof of a strong genetic health risk for the actress.

When Jolie learned she did indeed carry the defective BRCA1 gene that gave her a heightened risk of developing breast cancer — and to a lesser but still significant extent ovarian cancer — she chose surgery in hopes of warding off life-threatening disease.

Jolie had mastectomies in February followed by reconstruction with implants in April.

She could have maintained her privacy regarding the procedures, and no one would have questioned such a decision. Instead, the actress chose to be open about her situation and show other women how such a preventive act could be empowering, and in no way diminish their femininity.

Her revelation also served as an important reminder of the need for women who have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer to seek out information from physicians, receive adequate counseling and make informed decisions regarding their own situations.

Such education is critical, especially as medical experts also have expressed concerns about women fearful of cancer seeking mastectomies even though they haven't tested positive for the faulty gene.

Jolie's story should compel women to become better educated and more proactive in their own health care. Lives could be saved as a result in a nation where this year alone more than 232,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer in women were expected to be diagnosed, with nearly 40,000 expected to die from the disease.

At a time too many celebrities are in the news for all the wrong reasons, Jolie gave us cause to be thankful for one star's interest in putting herself in the spotlight.

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