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Jolie's double mastectomy spotlights breast cancer awareness

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© Associated Press © Associated Press
RALEIGH, N.C. -

Angelina Jolie's surprise announcement that she had a preventive double mastectomy sent shockwaves through the pop culture world. But one Raleigh woman says she too has been faced with the same life-changing decision.

Jolie, 37, said that after genetic testing she learned she carries the "faulty" BRCA1 gene and had an 87 percent chance of getting breast cancer.

Rex Cancer Center Outreach and Support Services Manager Emmeline Madsen says women generally have a 12-percent chance of developing breast cancer over her lifetime, but those odds increase with the presence of the BRCA1 gene.

"A woman who tested positive for breast cancer mutation is no longer 12 percent at risk, but instead 60 or more percent at risk of developing breast cancer," Madsen explained.

In an op-ed she authored for Tuesday's New York Times under the headline, "My Medical Choice," Jolie wrote that she made the choice with thoughts of her six children after watching her own mother, actress Marcheline Bertrand, die too young from cancer.

"My mother fought cancer for almost a decade and died at 56," Jolie writes. "She held out long enough to meet the first of her grandchildren and to hold them in her arms. But my other children will never have the chance to know her and experience how loving and gracious she was."

She writes that, "They have asked if the same could happen to me."

Like Jolie, Marla Dansky, of Raleigh, says she carries the BRCA1 gene. Dansky learned she had the gene after she, her mother and sister received the test.

All three women tested positive for the gene, and Dansky and her sister both decided to have a preventative double mastectomy.

"After getting the genetics, it was a very clear choice that removing both breasts would reduce the chance of recurrence and future cancer," Dansky, whose mother is a two-time survivor, said.

"If we're doing cancer, we're going to do it once. Get it all taken care."

Jolie said she has kept the process private so far, but wrote about it with hopes of helping other women.

"I wanted to write this to tell other women that the decision to have a mastectomy was not easy. But it is one I am very happy that I made," Jolie writes.

"My chances of developing breast cancer have dropped from 87 percent to under 5 percent. I can tell my children that they don't need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer."

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