It sounded like a hoax at first. Angelina Jolie, a woman feted the world all over for her otherworldly good looks and sexual charisma, decided to have her breasts removed. Who could believe it? And yet, as we’ve all discovered, the news couldn’t be truer, or more serious. In an op-ed piece entitled “My Medical Choice” published in The New York Times on May 14, the actress, director, humanitarian, and mom of six bravely shared her decision to undergo a preventive double mastectomy—a major procedure done primarily to significantly reduce her risk of breast cancer and, ultimately, to allow her to live longer for her family.

But while preventive surgery is not a new concept, what makes Angelina’s case unique, and perhaps more relevant, is the way she used her golden celebrity status to open global discussions about women’s medical options. By detailing her experience, she gave women all over the world a much-needed nudge in developing a proactive attitude towards health care. And while there’s some concern over how her actions may be misconstrued by some, the important thing is that there is newfound curiosity. More and more women are now asking: Am I at risk? Should I get a gene test? Is mastectomy an option for me?

It doesn’t take a scientist to know this. When more questions are being asked, the chances of getting answers are significantly increased. Here are three things every woman should know about breast cancer detection.

WHAT FACTORS INCREASE MY RISK OF GETTING BREAST CANCER?
There are modifiable and non-modifiable factors. “Non-modifiable ones are us being female and us getting older, [plus] family history or the gene,” says Dr. Michelle S. Uy, breast surgeon and head of the breast center at St. Luke’s Medical Center Global City. Modifiable ones are influenced by lifestyle—diet, fitness, habits. “Early onset of menstruation and late menopause are also risk factors,” adds Dr. Ervin Nucum, general surgeon at the University of Santo Tomas Hospital, who says that increased levels of estrogen are believed to contribute to the disease.

HOW DO I KNOW IF I HAVE THE MUTATED GENE?
“Having a gene test is the most definitive way,” says Dr. Aldine Basa, breast and general surgeon at the Medical City. But if you have first- and second-degree relatives who’ve had cancer, that puts you at high risk. “[An alternative to gene testing] is taking a risk test, wherein your medical and family history [are evaluated].” She noted that this is not as accurate, though.

IS GENE-TESTING AVAILABLE IN THE PHILIPPINES?
Currently, there are only a few centers offering this here, one of which is LifeScience Center for Wellness & Preventive Medicine in Bonifacio Global City, Taguig. But while the sample-taking is done here, the actual testing is done abroad, says Dr. Ben Valdecañas, the center’s medical director.


To learn more about breast cancer detection and Angelina Jolie’s admirable battle against the dreaded disease, grab a copy of Good Housekeeping’s August 2013 issue, out on stands now! You can also subscribe to the magazine’s digital edition.

Also in this issue:
Worry Free, Finally!
Makeup Tricks that Take Years off Your Face
15 No-Fuss Recipes Your Family Will Love

(Photo by UNHCR/ACNUR Américas via Flickr Creative Commons)

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