Olivia Munn

Raising awareness

2 minute read

The night before she revealed on social media that she had breast cancer, actor Olivia Munn had a “full-blown panic attack,” she says. She wrestled with wanting to be strong and hopeful, yet realistic about the challenges of having cancer: the difficult treatments and the sobering realities of how it would impact her future. So she decided to give some actionable advice. 

She wrote an Instagram post urging women to use the Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool, a free online test that women can take in about five minutes to determine if they are at higher risk of developing breast cancer. “It was my No. 1 goal to tell other women that this tool exists,” says Munn. Her doctor had used it to learn that Munn was at higher risk, even though she had had a few years of clear mammograms, no symptoms, and none of the major breast-cancer mutations in the BRCA gene. The quiz asks about family history of breast cancer, when women started their periods, and a few other questions—and if it reveals a higher risk, it guides women to get additional testing, which is what Munn did. 

An MRI revealed tumors the mammograms had missed, and biopsies showed they were cancerous. Further testing showed Munn had an aggressive, fast-growing cancer, and that some tumors were close to her lymph nodes; if they moved there, they could spread to other parts of her body.

Munn’s post led to a surge in visits to the Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool site, says a spokesperson for the National Cancer Institute, which operates the tool. “Seeing the conversation around this pick up gave me so much peace,” says Munn. “I wanted to help as many people as possible prevent their cancer from going to the next level.” 

Because of her early diagnosis, Munn was able to choose between chemotherapy and radiation, or hormone-based treatments. She chose the latter and also decided to undergo a double mastectomy to reduce her risk of recurrence. “Right now I’m doing good,” said Munn, whose son Malcolm is 2 years old. “I’m exhausted at times, but I get to be Malcolm’s mom every day. The fact that I’m here—my spirits are high, and I remain extremely grateful.”

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