Could you afford Angelina Jolie’s surgery?

The star underwent a double mastectomy after finding she had a cancer risk. From testing to recovery, it's a pricey undertaking.

By Aimee Picchi May 14, 2013 3:05PM

Angelina Jolie in London on April, 11, 2013 (© Alastair Grant/AP Photo)Movie star Angelina Jolie made a startling revelation Tuesday when she wrote in The New York Times about her decision to have a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery after learning she carries a gene that put her at risk for breast and ovarian cancers. 

Fortunately for Jolie, she's financially well off -- with a reported net worth of $120 million -- which at least made her treatment possible, if not any easier to opt for. The star of movies such as Viacom's (VIA) "Tomb Raider" is, after all, often cited as one of the world's most beautiful women.

Jolie understands that her initial testing costs alone would create an obstacle for many women. Those gene tests, which identify whether women carry a defective BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene, costs more than $3,000 in the U.S. and "remains an obstacle for many women," she writes.

But that would likely rank among the smallest costs for a woman pursuing Jolie's treatment. 

Some women might find that their insurers don't cover prophylactic mastectomies. There's no federal law that requires health insurers to cover the procedure, whereby Jolie took the step to avoid a worse outcome later in life, according to the breast cancer advocacy group Susan G. Komen. (Jolie wrote that her doctors estimated she had an 87% risk of breast cancer.)

A double mastectomy's price can vary, but one surgeon on RealSelf, a site where doctors answers questions about cosmetic surgery and other procedures, estimates that the costs can exceed $20,000. That price would include the mastectomy, anesthesia and reconstruction.

Then there's the time required to recuperate from the surgery, which could mean lost wages. Jolie, however, noted that she was able to "carry on with my work" despite three months of medical procedures. 

The cost of breast reconstruction may be one reason many women don't go through it after a mastectomy, according to a 2011 study. Fewer than one in four women with invasive cancer opted for immediate reconstruction, and those most likely to go in for the procedure were younger than 50 and had health insurance. 

Jolie isn't alone in calling attention to the issue of gene screening and preventive care. Actress Christina Applegate chose to have both breasts removed after she was diagnosed with cancer in one breast and tested positive for a defective BRCA1 gene. 

Applegate started a foundation aimed at helping women afford breast screenings, such as MRIs. "This service is not always covered by insurance and many women across the country cannot afford the high costs of a breast MRI," Applegate wrote on her foundation's site.

Jolie's revelation about her own surgery may help draw additional attention to the costs. "It has got to be a priority to ensure that more women can access gene testing and lifesaving preventive treatment, whatever their means and background, wherever they live," the actress writes. 

Follow Aimee Picchi on Twitter at @aimeepicchi

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May 14, 2013 9:45PM
Why are people so ignorant. The women has done a lot of good in this world with bringing awareness to many issues for the poor.  Also giving mega millions to charities.  It isn't her fault that she managed to be a very talented actress and makes a lot of money.  She has done more for the poor and underprivileged then half of the other actors in Hollywood. Grow up!
Apr 28, 2014 7:43PM
I don't think I could afford half of her surgery. I'm a big fan of her acting though, and her life on the side. She seems like one of those actresses that actually make the world a better place instead of just thinking of themselves.

Bill | 
Jan 8, 2014 12:54AM

Thank you Angelina. Your article has provided me the tools to make my decision. I was diagnosed 3 weeks ago with breast cancer in situ in the right one, and told my Surgeon I just want them both off. He informed me that my insurance, Riverside Medical Clinic, Medicare & HMO Easy Choice,  won't pay for the left one. My husband asked him if I get only one, will I have Chemo and he said yes, but if I take them both off, no Chemo. How is that right that the insurance will pay for the expensive Chemo, but not the left surgery. Greedy HMO and DRS just want two separate procedures so they get paid from medicare twice and I have to endure the pain of two surgeries. Not to mention the hell of waiting for it to appear, possibly somewhere else, and put MY life in their hands. I wanted to know how much my cost would be since medicare covers 80% of what they deem usual and customary cost. I was happy to read that you shared your very private life and personal cost so I knew.  Now I just need to find an organization that helps with that share of cost and the left one. Thank you and your husband again, for taking the giant leap to help so many women in the world make decisions regarding their life by sharing yours. Sincerely, Karen
May 14, 2013 7:17PM
Who freakin cares!!!  About her that is.  She is not special...
May 14, 2013 7:20PM
Are you kidding me?  I can barely afford Angie herself.
- signed, Brad Pitt.

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