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Jolie's Preventative Surgery Jump-Starts Cancer Conversations In Greenwich

Dr. Barbara Ward, Medical Director, The Breast Center at Greenwich Hospital.
Dr. Barbara Ward, Medical Director, The Breast Center at Greenwich Hospital. Photo Credit: Submitted

GREENWICH, Conn. -- Angelina Jolie-Pitt's op-ed article, " Diary of a Surgery ," which ran in The New York Times this week, started up the conversation anew about prophylactic surgery for breast and ovarian cancers.

Many in the media are calling it "the Jolie effect." Dr. Barbara Ward, medical director of the Breast Center at Greenwich Hospital, calls it a positive step.

"I think it's only natural when a public figure like Angelina Jolie-Pitt goes public that this topic is brought to the forefront," Ward said.

Jolie-Pitt, who two years ago underwent a double mastectomy, had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed recently as well in an effort to prevent cancer. She has a long family and genetic history of cancer.

Because this part of the country has many cases of BRCA-related cancers due in part to the large Ashkenazi Jewish population in the region, Jolie-Pitt's statements validate the choice for preventative surgeries in cancer treatment.

"It's not so much a new choice but a positive step in having patients talk about and ask questions," said Ward.

This is especially true with ovarian cancer, which can be hard to diagnose early.

"As a breast cancer specialist, I’m of the mindset that we want to know who the gene carriers are," Ward said. "Yes, we know that can be a difficult decision for many women as they then wonder, 'What do they do with that information?' But the reality is, we want to know because those women are at a higher risk and that way, we can keep a closer eye on them."

Like anything in the news that "splashes" and then "ripples," Ward hopes patients will see the article as a positive conversation starter.

"The sum of it all is that the facts continue to change and statistics continue to evolve."

For more information, she suggests visiting the National Cancer Institute website detailing BRCA1 and BRCA2  gene mutations at this website .

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