Angelina Jolie (Danny Martindale/WireImage)
Almost instantly, the 37-year-old Oscar winner and humanitarian put a famous face on a sensitive procedure that many other women have elected to have -- some of them celebrities.
Christina Applegate also opted to have a double mastectomy. After cancer was detected in one of her breasts in 2008, the "Anchorman: The Legend Continues" actress, whose mother had multiple occurrences of breast cancer, made the dramatic decision to remove both of her breasts so she'd be less likely to suffer the same fate.
"I didn't want to go back to the doctors every four months for testing and squishing and everything," Applegate, 41, told "Good Morning America" at the time. "I just wanted to kind of be rid of this whole thing for me. This was the choice that I made, and it was a tough one."
And one she is still grappling with on some levels. While Jolie wrote in the New York Times op-ed piece that following the procedure, she does "not feel any less of a woman" and she feels "empowered," Applegate still struggles with her post-surgery body image.
"This part of my body is very private to me," she said, motioning to her chest, during an appearance on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show." "That's a real private place -- a place that I don't have a good relationship with, let's say."
Christina Applegate (Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images)
Sharon Osbourne (Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images)
Sharon Osbourne has also gone public with her personal decision. After having colon cancer, she learned she carried a gene for breast cancer a decade later, in 2012, and immediately underwent a double mastectomy.
"As soon as I found out I had the breast cancer gene, I thought, 'The odds are not in my favor,'" the 60-year-old "The Talk" co-host told Hello magazine in November. "I've had cancer before and I didn't want to live under that cloud. I decided to just take everything off."
And she didn't want to feel sorry for herself.
"For me, it wasn't a big decision, it was a no-brainer," she told the magazine. "I didn't want to live the rest of my life with that shadow hanging over me. I want to be around for a long time and be a grandmother."
Wanda Sykes was in a slightly different position in 2011 when doctors found evidence of what she described as early-stage breast cancer when she went under the knife to have a breast reduction. Since cancer runs on her mother's side of the family, she didn't want to take any chances and also opted to have a double mastectomy.
"It wasn't until after the reduction that in the lab work, the pathology, that they found that I had DCIS [ductal carcinoma in situ] in my left breast," the comedian explained to Ellen DeGeneres. "I was very, very lucky because DCIS is basically stage-zero cancer. So I was very lucky."
Sykes, 49, said she thought a lot about going public with her story.
"I was like, I don't know, should I talk about it or what? How many things could I have? I'm black, then lesbian. I can't be the poster child for everything," she joked.
Like Sykes, a diagnosis prompted Kathy Bates to have the procedure after she was diagnosed with cancer for the second time. Last September -- nine years after beating ovarian cancer -- the actress, 64, learned she had breast cancer.
"After much consideration, I underwent a double mastectomy. Luckily, I don't have to undergo radiation or chemo," she told People at the time, adding, "My doctors have assured me I'm going to be around for a long time. I'm looking forward to getting back to work doing what I love to do."
Wanda Sykes (Paul Drinkwater/NBC)
Kathy Bates (Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
But Giuliana Rancic, who had her breasts removed in 2011 after being diagnosed with breast cancer, has made it clear that the surgery is no walk in the park.
"I in no way want to minimize it. Yes, I'm two-and-a-half weeks out, but up until a week-and-a-half ago it was hell. It was horrible," the 38-year-old "E! News" anchor said on the "Today" show about her 5 1/2 hour surgery.
But the end result was better than she anticipated.
"At first I didn't want to look in the mirror, because I felt like, I'm getting better every day and this is about my health, so I shouldn't get bogged down by what I see in the mirror," she told Glamour in 2012. "Then one night before we went to bed, I was in the bathroom changing, and I decided I wanted to see what I was dealing with, and I wanted to do it alone. So I unzipped and just looked. ...There were scars and bruising and part of me felt terrified, but part of me felt like, 'Hey, they actually don't look as bad as I thought.'"
Giuliana Rancic (Stephen Lovekin/FilmMagic)
Since Jolie's announcement, CNN anchor Zoraida Sambolin, 47, has come forward to say she's getting the operation. And former "American Idol" judge Kara DioGuardi isn't ruling it out either. The songwriter -- whose mother died after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer at 50 and her grandmother had breast cancer -- recently revealed that she had radical surgery to remove her reproductive organs in December after being told she carries the BRCA2 gene that put her at high risk of ovarian cancer. And she wouldn't rule out a preventive mastectomy either.
"I'll have to be evaluated every six months," the 42-year-old told People in April. "I still have my natural breasts but I would consider having a prophylactic mastectomy [if my doctor recommends it]."
While each woman's decision is different, Jolie said she went public with her story to get a conversation started on the topic -- and to let women know they have choices.
"For any woman reading this, I hope it helps you to know you have options," noted the mother of six in her op-ed. "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."
Check out this slideshow to see how celebs reacted to Angelina Jolie's brave decision to have a double mastectomy:
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- Angelina Jolie
- breast cancer
- ovarian cancer
- Christina Applegate