Angelina Jolie tells why she went through more surgery

Actress Angelina Jolie revealed today she's undergone more preventative surgery to reduce her chances of cancer -- by having her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed.

Jolie says she wants other women to know their options.

Doctors told Jolie her risk of developing ovarian cancer was 50 percent. The 39-year-old had inherited a mutation of a gene called BRCA 1, which also dramatically increases the risk of breast cancer. Two years ago she had a double mastectomy. This month a false alarm in blood testing led to five anxious days before further testing found no evidence of cancer.

In a New York Times op-ed, Jolie wrote:

"To my relief, I still had the option of removing my ovaries and fallopian tubes and I chose to do it..."

That's a decision Laura McSpirit Grier, 46, understands well. She, too carries the BRCA 1 gene. So does her twin sister, who developed breast cancer. A year after the birth of her fourth child, Grier had her ovaries removed and underwent a double mastectomy.

"My whole thought process was this knowledge that I have right now is power and I'm going to use it to my advantage and I can see the future with this. And my future was I'm not getting cancer," she said.

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Laura McSpirit Grier, 46, also has the BRCA 1 gene and chose to have surgery to lessen her cancer risk.
CBS News

As a result of the surgery, Grier and Jolie entered menopause early. Oncologists estimate this procedure reduces the risk of ovarian cancer in women carrying the BRCA 1 mutation by about 80 to 90 percent or more.

"I feel at ease with whatever will come, not because I am strong but because this is a part of life. It is nothing to be feared," Jolie wrote.

"You can't think about yourself, it's not just about you," said Grier. "I just think it's the most selfish thing not to go ahead and do it when you have people who love you and care about you."

But why would a person like Grier choose surgery instead of intensive monitoring.

"People have tried that with a blood test called the CA125, and periodic and frequent pelvic ultrasounds," explained CBS News' Dr. Jon LaPook. "But it turns out it just doesn't work that well. It's much more effective to take out the ovaries and the fallopian tube.

"And it's not perfect. As Angelina Jolie says, she understands that she can't totally get rid of the risks but there's some sense of relief knowing she's doing everything in her power to at least lower the odds that she's going to get cancer."

  • Jonathan LaPook

    Dr. Jonathan LaPook is the chief medical correspondent for the CBS Evening News. Follow him on Twitter at @DrLaPook