14/05/2013 13:39 BST | Updated 14/07/2013 06:12 BST

Why Angelina Jolie's Double Mastectomy Resonates With So Many Women


Angelina Jolie's personal account of being told she has a fault in her BRCA1 gene and decision to have a double mastectomy to reduce the risk of her developing breast cancer has struck a chord with many individuals and families.

In her account in the New York Times she says she was told by her doctors that the fault in her BRCA1 gene raised her own individual chances of developing breast cancer to 87%.

Angelina describes her decision to undergo risk reducing surgery after her mother died from breast cancer aged 56.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in the UK affecting around 55,000 women every year. The vast majority of breast cancers happen by chance but a small number of people diagnosed with breast cancer (less than 10%) have inherited a fault in one of the known breast cancer genes; BRCA1, BRCA2 or TP53 which means they will have a much higher chance of developing the disease over the general population.

Most breast cancers are not due to inherited (genetic) factors and do not affect the lifetime risk for other relatives. So, even if you have a relative with breast cancer, it doesn't necessarily mean you're more likely to get it yourself.

However a small number of people may have an increased risk of developing breast cancer because of a significant family history. A family history looks at the past and present illnesses of your blood relatives (those related to you by birth, not marriage) over several generations.

If you're concerned about your risk of developing breast cancer it's important that you get professional advice tailored to you and your family. Your GP (local doctor) is a good place to start.

Breast Cancer Care talks to many who may be concerned about a possible family history, either themselves or for others and we have plenty of support on offer for those looking for it. Our breast cancer in families booklet explains what a diagnosis of breast cancer in your family may mean for you. The Breast Cancer Care Helpline (0808 800 6000) can also offer information and support for anyone concerned about breast cancer.

Being told you have an increased risk of developing breast cancer because of an inherited genetic fault or significant family history can be an anxious time. Making decisions about managing your risk either by earlier screening or risk reducing surgeries can be difficult. Talking to someone who understands how you feel can help.

Breast Cancer Care can put you in touch with someone who has been through a similar situation and has been trained to offer support. Find out more about one to one support.

Commenting on the story Dr Emma Pennery, Breast Cancer Care's Clinical Director said:

"Angelina's experience will resonate with the many women we support each day.

"We welcome Angelina's comments which highlight this important issue and encourage women in a similar situation to find support. It's important that anyone who has inherited a faulty BRCA gene is able to make an informed decision about risk-reducing surgery and other options available to them. It is positive that Angelina feels surgery has not reduced her femininity, though we know that people's experiences of surgery will vary.

"Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK. So even if a relative has the disease it doesn't necessarily mean that you are more likely to get breast cancer. Fewer than 10% of all breast cancers are caused by faulty breast cancer genes; the two most commonly linked to hereditary breast cancer are BRCA1 and BRCA2.

"If you're concerned about your risk, talk to a healthcare professional - this could be your GP or if you have breast cancer, your breast care team."