TODAY   |  May 14, 2013

Angelina Jolie reveals she had double mastectomy

In a surprising revelation, the actress wrote in the New York Times that she underwent a double mastectomy after learning she had a high likelihood of being diagnosed with breast cancer. NBC’s Dr. Nancy Snyderman reports.

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>> opens up ab what she's calling her medical choice in the "new york times." she made the decision for a double mastectomy after genetic tests showed she had a high probability of developing breast cancer .

>> she has kept this process private but is now sharing her story in the hopes of helping other women. nancy snyderman , our medical editor.

>> good morning. it's estimated 450,000 women around the world will die of breast cancer and 2,000 women in the united states will be diagnosed next year. it's obviously, when we talk about breast cancer , a disease a lot of us know about and talk about, affected our brothers and sisters . sometimes our brothers, our mothe mothers. in angelina jolie 's case, she wants us to know it can also be a personal journey, a personal journey that weaves in her case, her family history and her geneti genetics. she wants women to know about the options. in an op-ed in this morning's "new york times," actor angelina jolie writes she chose to have a double mastectomy to reduce her chance of getting breast cancer . the 37-year-old oscar winning actress made the decision after losing her own mother to ovarian cancer in 2007 . shortly afterward, she talked to ann curry about the loss.

>> it's a natural thing for a child to lose a parent. i lost my mom too young. it happened. i'm happy she's out of pain.

>> reporter: jolie went genetic testing on the bcra 1 gene which sharply increases her chances of developing cancer. doctors estimated she had an 87% of breast cancer and 57% of ovarian. in the article, jolie writes, once i knew this was my reality, i decided to be proactive and minimize the risk as much as i coul could.

>> this is a very unique situation in that she tested positive for a specific gene mutation . in women who do test positive for these mutations we will more often represented prophylatic surgery.

>> reporter: she writes she began with the procedures february 2nd to end the breast tissue ending with reconstruction of both breasts using implants. the entire process took about three months. jolie writes, i did not feel any less of a woman. i feel empowered i made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity.

>> i can't imagine this would have any sort of negative impact on her image or ability to get work or do any of the roles she's done in the past.

>> reporter: by her side her entire time was her partner and father of her six children, brad pitt . about pitt's support, she writes, brad was at the pink lotus breast center for every minute of the surgeries. we managed to find moments to laugh together. we knew this was the right thing to do for our family and it would bring us closer and it ha has.

>> most cases of breast cancer are random. genetic mutations only make up 508% of all cases of breast cancer . in this particular case the specific mutation of the gene, in this case, angelina jolie , combined with a very strong family history meant she had the time to sit down with genetic counselors and determine what was particular in her case and what was her best option. i think, savannah, in this case, it is the epitome of personalized medicine .

>> let's put this in perspective, nancy. i think you said it's 5 to 8% of the population that may have this gene. a lot of people watching might think should i get this testing? is it practical for them to do so, because as i understand it, it's quite expensive.

>> it's exactly what i want women to hear, this is not a random test. because her mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at a very young age and because she had the means to get this test, which can be $3,000 and then have the right doctors to sit down and counsel her, she could make an informed decision. ironically, i'm at a conference today on this particular thing, understanding your genome. as we understand the genetics of cancer we can taylor and understand treatment. right now. it is not for everybody. if you are of particular jewish descent, have strong family history , breast, colon, pancreatic, ovarian, cervical cancer on either side of your family. sit down with your doctor and decide, is this for you. in some cases, insurance companies will pay for this. also be prepared, what are you going to do with the information if you get a positive test , not just braca 1 or 2, abnormality in those genes that makes people courageous in some cases.

>> it's certainly a courageous decision.