Angelina Jolie undergoes double mastectomy

Angelina Jolie has revealed that she recently underwent a preventative double mastectomy.

The actress, whose mother, Marcheline Bertrand, died of ovarian cancer in 2007, was tested to see whether she carried the 'faulty' gene that increases a woman's risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer.

"My doctors estimated that I had an 87 per cent risk of breast cancer and a 50 per cent risk of ovarian cancer, although the risk is different in the case of each woman," Ms Jolie wrote in a op-ed piece published in The New York Times.

"Once I knew that this was my reality, I decided to be proactive and to minimise the risk as much I could."

Ms Jolie's treatment began in February and finished on April 27, with the procedures remaining secret until the Oscar-winning actress chose to go public by penning a first-person piece on her decision for the Times.

"I am writing about it now because I hope that other women can benefit from my experience," Ms Jolie, who is 37, wrote.

"Cancer is still a word that strikes fear into people’s hearts, producing a deep sense of powerlessness. But today it is possible to find out through a blood test whether you are highly susceptible to breast and ovarian cancer, and then take action."

Breast cancer is the most common cancer for women in Australia, with one in eight being diagnosed by the age of 85.

Hereditary breast cancer is rarer than many people think, with only 5 to 10 per cent of cases occurring in women whose families have a gene fault.

Australia has no national database of how many preventative mastectomies are performed but, according to a 2010 study by Associate Professor Kelly-Anne Phillips, medical oncologist at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne, only around 17 per cent of Australian women who tested positive for the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations had a risk-reducing mastectomy within six years.

In her article, Ms Jolie detailed the various stages of the medical procedures involved with a mastectomy, including the major surgery, which she said "does feel like a scene out of a science-fiction film".

"But days after surgery you can be back to a normal life," she wrote.

Despite the mastectomies and subsequent breast reconstruction being a difficult process, Ms Jolie said she was pleased she had gone through with it.

"The decision to have a mastectomy was not easy. But it is one I am very happy that I made. My chances of developing breast cancer have dropped from 87 percent to under 5 percent. I can tell my children that they don’t need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer...

"For any woman reading this, I hope it helps you to know you have options. 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."

Angelina Jolie. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Angelina Jolie. Photo: GETTY IMAGES