The world was surprised, impressed, and -- perhaps most importantly -- informed by Angelina Jolie's announcement Monday night that she had a preventative double mastectomy.
The Oscar-winning actress announced that she decided to have the procedure in order to reduce her high genetic chances of developing breast or ovarian cancer.
"omg! Insider" caught up with CNN's Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen to find out some of the answers to the most pressing medical questions that arose following Jolie's announcement.
Angelina Jolie (WireImage)/Elizabeth Cohen (Getty Images)
What exactly is the BRCA gene?
When people say the BRCA gene, what they mean is a mutation in the normal breast cancer gene, which is wrong. If you have a mutation in this gene, it means most likely that you have increased risk of getting breast cancer. Or, at least a significantly increased risk. In Angelina Jolie's case, she said she had an 87 % chance of getting breast cancer sometime in her life. Or, I should say, she had when she had her breasts. Now, she doesn't. But with her mutation, she had an 87% chance of getting breast cancer sometime in her life.
Were Angelina's actions extreme? Should all women do this who have this gene?
You know, what Angelina Jolie did -- removing both her breasts -- sounds extreme, but it actually isn't. A lot of women choose to do this. In fact, when doctors are asked, "Would you get your breast removed if you had a breast cancer gene mutation?" more than half of them say "Yes." So many women choose this route. Now, they don't have to. There are other options. If you've got a breast cancer mutation like Angelina Jolie, you can remove your breast, but you can also just be really vigilant. You can get frequent mammograms, frequent MRIs, and there are also drugs like Tamoxifen you can take to prevent your chances of getting breast cancer. She doesn't have a 0% chance, but it's under 5%.
What steps should Angelina take next? Should she have her ovaries removed?
Angelina Jolie said that she started with the breast surgery, but she didn't mention if she's going to have her ovaries removed, too. But in these situations, doctors do recommend that women get their ovaries removed. They tell women in their 30s, "If you're done having children, we recommend removing your ovaries. And certainly, you should do it by your 40th birthday. The reason for that is that if you have this gene, you have an increased risk of getting ovarian cancer. She said she has 50% chance of getting ovarian cancer, like her mom did.
The thing about ovaries is that they're really hard to test. So, you can keep your breasts and do mammograms and MRIs -- but that's much harder to do with ovaries. It's very hard to keep track of what's going on inside your ovaries. So, that's why doctors recommend that if you've got mutations, you should remove your ovaries when you're done having children or certainly by your 40th birthday.
What are Angelina's options beyond having an oophorectomy (removal of the ovaries)?
Some women remove their ovaries first and then get their breasts removed, other women do just the ovaries and keep their breasts, or the other way around. There's lot of options, lots of different ways to do it.
How should women go about handling these procedures? Do they need to take time away from work?
Certainly take some time off to have the surgery and have the reconstructive surgeries that follow, but women can go about their lives in between these steps. Women don't quit their jobs, women don't leave their jobs for months and months at the time. They do have to take some time off, but as you've seen, Angelina has been all the time up and around even though she had it done in February.
When does reconstruction usually take place?
Reconstruction happens afterwards. Some women, like Angelina, get implants; most of the times, these days, they're saline implants. Other women take fat from their hips or fat from their bellies and get breasts made out of that.
She can certainly still be that sexpot; she can still wear those plunging necklines on the red carpet. That's because reconstructed breasts these days look so natural.
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