Less than two weeks after Angelina Jolie sparked a worldwide discussion on breast cancer and preventative options with her NY Times op-ed, her aunt has lost her own battle with the disease. According to the Associated Press, Debbie Martin — the younger sister of Jolie's mother — passed away Sunday in Escondido, Calif. She was 61.
Due to the presence of the BRCA1 gene, Martin had shared the same high risk of cancer that prompted Jolie to undergo a double mastectomy as a preventative measure. Unfortunately, her aunt did not discover she had the faulty gene until after her 2004 cancer diagnosis. “Had we known, we certainly would have done exactly what Angelina did,” Martin's husband told the AP.
He added that after developing breast cancer, his wife had her ovaries removed to minimize her chances of the disease returning.
In her NY Times article, Jolie said a test revealed she had an "87 percent risk of breast cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer" due to the presence of BRCA1. Her mother, Marcheline Bertrand, passed away in 2007 after an eight-year battle with ovarian cancer. "There is no longevity on my mother's side of the family," Jolie said in a 2007 interview. "My grandmother also died young (age 45), so my mother always thought it could happen to her."
According to doctors, Jolie's cancer risk after her double mastectomy dropped from 87 percent to less than 5 percent. It's now widely expected that the 37-year-old will next pursue the removal of her ovaries with a procedure known as an oophorectomy.
"For any woman reading this, I hope it helps you to know you have options," she wrote in her article. "I want to encourage every woman, especially if you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, to seek out the information and medical experts who can help you through this aspect of your life, and to make your own informed choices."
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