Brad Pitt today hailed the courage of his fiance Angelina Jolie after she revealed that she has undergone a double mastectomy to lower the risk of her getting breast cancer - the disease that killed her mother almost a decade ago.
In an article for The New York Times entitled 'My Medical Choice,' Jolie says that she completed three months of medical procedures at the end of April that she had so far managed to keep out of the public eye.
Jolie explains that her own mother died of breast cancer at the age of 56 and that she herself had the 'faulty' BRCA1 gene, which increased her chances of getting the disease to 87 per cent, and of getting ovarian cancer to 50 per cent.
Pitt called her decision to undergo a double mastectomy "absolutely heroic"
Speaking to the Evening Standard, he said: “Having witnessed this decision first hand, I find Angie’s choice, as well as so many others like her, absolutely heroic. I thank our medical team for their care and focus".
He added: "All I want for is for her to have a long and healthy life, with myself and our children. This is a happy day for our family.”
The 37-year-old Tomb Raider actress and humanitarian activist says the reason behind her decision was to reassure her children - of which she has three biological and three adopted - that the illness that took their grandmother would not do the same to her.
In the article, she writes: "I can tell my children that they don’t need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer.
"It is reassuring that they see nothing that makes them uncomfortable. They can see my small scars and that’s it. Everything else is just Mommy, the same as she always was."
She also thanks Pitt, describing him as "so loving and supportive".
Following her surgery, which involved breast reconstruction with implants, the actress' chances of developing the cancer have dropped to under 5 per cent.
She says her decision to write about her experience came from wanting to reassure other women that they "have options".
"I choose not to keep my story private because there are many women who do not know that they might be living under the shadow of cancer," she writes.
"It is my hope that they, too, will be able to get gene tested, and that if they have a high risk they, too, will know that they have strong options."
Dr Richard Francis, head of research at Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: "We're sorry to hear that Angelina has the BRCA1 gene fault.
"For women like Angelina it's important that they are made fully aware of all the options that are available, including risk-reducing surgery and extra breast screening.
"Though Angelina decided that a preventative mastectomy was the right choice for her, this may not be the case for another woman in a similar situation.
"We urge anyone who is worried about their risk of breast cancer to talk it through with their doctor."
He said BRCA gene faults are rare and in most cases are linked to family history.
"Thanks to great advances in research we're able to pinpoint when people like Angelina are BRCA carriers and therefore at risk," he said.
"However we do need to continue vital research into breast cancer so women at high risk have even more, potentially less-invasive, prevention options."
Jolie addresses the fact that only a fraction of cancers result from an inherited gene mutation in her article. She writes: "Those with a defect in BRCA1 have a 65 percent risk of getting it, on average."
"Once I knew that this was my reality, I decided to be proactive and to minimize the risk as much I could. I made a decision to have a preventive double mastectomy. I started with the breasts, as my risk of breast cancer is higher than my risk of ovarian cancer, and the surgery is more complex."
Jolie's treatment began on 2 February "with a procedure known as 'nipple delay'" which rules out disease behind the nipple duct and draws extra blood flow to the area which increases the risk of the nipple being saved for use in reconstructive surgery.
She describes the mastectomy in detail: "I had the major surgery, where the breast tissue is removed and temporary fillers are put in place. The operation can take eight hours. You wake up with drain tubes and expanders in your breasts. It does feel like a scene out of a science-fiction film. But days after surgery you can be back to a normal life."
"Nine weeks later, the final surgery is completed with the reconstruction of the breasts with an implant. There have been many advances in this procedure in the last few years, and the results can be beautiful."