Tributes have been being paid to actress Angelina Jolie who today told the world that she underwent a double mastectomy to cut her risk of breast cancer.
The Hollywood star said she took the decision to have three months of medical procedures when doctors told her she had an 87% risk of breast cancer and a 50% risk of ovarian cancer.
Writing the the New York Times, Jolie said she carries the "faulty" gene BRCA1, which sharply increases her risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
Foreign Secretary William Hague, who in March visited refugee camps in the Democratic Republic of Congo with Jolie as part of a campaign to highlight the problem of mass rape in conflict areas, said she was "a courageous lady" who would be "an inspiration to many".
Mr Hague told Sky News: "She is a courageous lady and a very professional lady. She's done a lot of work with me in recent months.
"She also came over to the G8 foreign ministers' summit in London to work with me on our initiative on preventing sexual violence in conflict and travelled with me through some difficult places in the Congo.
"She gave no sign that she was undergoing such treatment and I think she's a very brave lady, not only to carry on with her work so well during such treatment, but also to write about it now and talk about it. I think that she's a brave lady and will be an inspiration to many."
Pop star Michelle Heaton also hailed Jolie's decision to publicise her double mastectomy as "incredibly important" in giving support and encouragement to other women in a similar situation.
The Liberty X singer underwent a double mastectomy last year.
"I can't even stress how much of an impact I had, saying that I was going through this, on women - especially through Twitter and people writing to me.
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"It was such a huge impact and I know that I have had hundreds of women who have gone for this test and subsequently found that they had the BRCA gene and they can then make an informed decision," she told ITV's Daybreak.
"Imagine what impact somebody as huge as Angelina Jolie can have on this.
"I really do think that the BRCA gene has only really come to light over the last year or two. It is a massive thing that women need to learn about and know that, if this runs in your family, you need to go and get tested because there are huge options and the options available are incredibly amazing - it shouldn't be too scary for you if you have the right information."
Heaton said it was "amazing" that Jolie had managed to keep the operation private for so long.
"I think it is has been about three months since she has had the operation... and she feels that it is time now to come out and tell everybody what she has gone through. It has been amazing that she has been able to keep it so private," she said.
"I know how much she has gone through - it is identical. I decided to have the double mastectomy pretty much as soon as I found out that I carried the gene, reconstruction on the same day.
"The reason that I did it was because I have a little baby girl and I didn't want her asking me later on in life 'Has Mummy got a chance of dying sooner rather than later?' and I never wanted that to be an option."
Heaton said the options available to women in a similar situation were "amazing".
"What they did with myself was unbelievable. I don't know what I was expecting after the operation, but what I was given, what I saw in the mirror, just was fabulous.
"As a woman to not look down and see something that made me cry every day - what I see is something that looks relatively normal, that looks like myself."
Wendy Watson, who founded the National Hereditary Breast Cancer Helpline, welcomed Jolie's decision to publicise her double mastectomy. Mrs Watson, from near Bakewell, Derbyshire, under went a double mastectomy in 1992, aged 37 years old.
"It is excellent, because it is the highest profile you can get for it," she said. "It raises the profile for other women to look to if they have a family history and would benefit from being screened more frequently, or having surgery or having a genetic test.
"She (Jolie) probably feels that under going the operation is common sense but it probably does take a certain amount of courage to face it."
Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive of Breast Cancer Campaign, said: "Angelina's openness in talking about her own experience and her decision to have surgery raises crucial awareness of breast cancer and its genetic risk.
"Deciding whether to have preventative surgery is a heart-rending decision for women like Angelina but we know it's a vital way of saving lives.
"This is a stark reminder of how much more research we need to do to give women more knowledge, choice and life-saving options to reduce their risk.
"If you are at all concerned that you may have an inherited mutation in your family and want further advice, your GP will be able to provide more information and help."
Writing in The New York Times, the Tomb Raider actress said she finished the three months of medical procedures on April 27, and added: "During that time I have been able to keep this private and to carry on with my work."
Paying tribute to Pitt, Jolie said: "I am fortunate to have a partner, Brad Pitt, who is so loving and supportive.
"So to anyone who has a wife or girlfriend going through this, know that you are a very important part of the transition.
"Brad was at the Pink Lotus Breast Centre, where I was treated, 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 that it would bring us closer. And it has."
The 37-year-old star said she was writing about the ordeal, in an article titled My Medical Choice, in the hope that other women can benefit from her experience.
Jolie, whose mother had cancer and died at 56, said waking up from the operation can feel "like a scene out of a science-fiction film" .
She said the decision to have the mastectomy was not easy but that she was happy to have gone ahead with it.
Urging women to get checked out, the star said: "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."
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