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Editorial: Angelina Jolie uses her celebrity to promote option of making informed choices

Updated: June 16, 2013 6:19AM

Is Angelina Jolie a hero?

No. But she never set out to be one, which makes her choice to go public about double mastectomy in a New York Times op-ed on Tuesday that much more admirable.

Jolie, who revealed she underwent the preventive surgery this spring, did something much more profound than portraying herself as a woman who refused to be victimized by breast cancer.

Instead, Jolie used her oversized celebrity to promote the notion of making an informed choice. The glamorous movie star and director also made it clear that her life and family were more important to her than a potential hit to her box office appeal.

For Jolie, the choice appears to have been fairly straightforward, though painful and with some risk. Jolie spoke of watching her mother fight breast cancer for 10 years before dying in her 50s. She then revealed that she carries a defective version of the BRCA1 gene, which her doctors told her left her with an 87 percent risk of developing breast cancer.

For her, the choice was a double mastectomy. “I am writing about it now because I hope other women can benefit from my experience. . . . Today it is possible to find out with a simple blood test whether you are highly susceptible to breast and ovarian cancer, and then take action.”

But there was little proselytizing. She made clear that only a fraction (5 to 10 percent) of breast cancers are caused by gene mutations. And she wasn’t promoting mastectomies for all women at risk, which surely pleased the American Cancer Society.

The group made clear in a statement that not every women needs the blood test and laid out a specific group of women who could benefit from the surgery, urging women to “proceed cautiously.” This comes as more and more women undergo double mastectomies after low-grade cancer diagnoses in one breast.

In a poignant and moving op-ed, notable for its focus on the facts and an absence of hyperbole, Angelina Jolie undoubtedly left a lasting mark.

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