How Olivia Munn's Doctor Saved Her Own Life with Mastectomy That Caught Cancer Tests Missed (Exclusive)

Dr. Thaïs Aliabadi is sharing her own breast cancer story to urge women to advocate for themselves

<p><a href="">Ryan West</a></p> Olivia Munn and Dr. Thais Aliabadi.

Ryan West

Olivia Munn and Dr. Thais Aliabadi.

Olivia Munn was diagnosed with bilateral breast cancer in April 2023. The diagnosis came as a shock.

Three months prior, the actress, 43, had a clear mammogram and had recently tested negative for the BRCA gene. Mammograms detect four out of five types of breast cancer, but Munn's fell in the 20% missed.

She credits her OB-GYN, Dr. Thaïs Aliabadi, for her life-saving prevention methods.

During Munn's routine Pap smear in March 2023, the physician "decided to calculate my breast cancer risk assessment score," said Munn. "The fact that she did saved my life."

Munn's score showed she had a high lifetime risk for cancer, and the subsequent MRI Aliabadi ordered found cancerous tumors her mammogram had missed.

Now, Dr. Aliabadi shares the story of discovering her own breast cancer with PEOPLE. 

<p>Olivia Munn/Instagram</p> Olivia Munns with Dr. Thais Aliabadi.

Olivia Munn/Instagram

Olivia Munns with Dr. Thais Aliabadi.

Related: Olivia Munn Recalls ‘Shock’ of Seeing Her Body After Having a Double Mastectomy: ‘Looking in the Mirror…Having No Emotion’ (Exclusive)

As a gynecologist, I've always been aware of the importance of regular check-ups and proactive health measures, so when I went for my mammogram at the age of 48, I wasn't overly concerned. But life has a funny way of surprising you when you least expect it.

The routine mammogram revealed something abnormal, prompting further investigation. A biopsy confirmed atypical lobular hyperplasia, a breast condition characterized by abnormal cell growth in the lobules of the breast. This was classified as a high-risk lesion because it can increase the risk of developing breast cancer in the future, warranting an excisional biopsy. Like most women who undergo biopsies for abnormalities found in their mammograms, I held my breath. I waited. What else could I do? 

The results that followed — those from my mammogram, ultrasounds and MRI — were all normal, and my doctor reassured me that my risk was low due to the absences of genetic mutations, a healthy family history and an active lifestyle. Still, I couldn't shake off the nagging feeling of uncertainty. Call it a physician’s intuition. Call it a woman’s. 

A few weeks later, I had lunch with one of our reps, having compartmentalized that sense of uncertainty in the back of my mind. It was on this fateful day that I decided to calculate my own lifetime risk of breast cancer using a Tyrer-Cuzick model calculator, which prompts users to input information about their lives, then provides a percentage indicating their risk of developing breast cancer.

I will never forget, mid-bite of my sandwich, stopping everything as I saw the staggering result: 37.5%. I had a 37.5% chance of contracting breast cancer, and I was floored. After all, with no gene mutations, no history of cancer in my entire family, no smoking or drug use, no hormone replacement, and no sign of obesity, how could my lifetime risk be so high? 

The possibility of facing breast cancer became real, and with three young children, a husband and hundreds of patients all relying on me, I couldn’t ignore that unforgettable number. 37.5. While it was a concerning risk score, I knew it didn’t necessarily mean I had cancer, but rather highlighted the importance of proactive health measures and discussions with my breast surgeon. 

Related: What Olivia Munn's Doctor Wants You to Know About Your Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Score (Exclusive)

Even though I face cancer every day as a gynecological surgeon, I couldn't shake off the fear of cancer coming for me, and by proxy my family. I sought out second, third and fourth opinions, determined to explore every avenue for peace of mind. I was reassured that everything was fine. I was told to come back in a few years. I was even called crazy, told that my lifetime risk didn’t warrant any proactive treatments. 

Here I was, not only a woman being dismissed by her doctors, but a doctor being dismissed by doctors. I didn’t give up, and eventually, I found a reconstructive plastic surgeon whose wife had breast cancer, who knew all-too-well the toll that it takes on we women, our families, our communities. That surgeon didn’t dismiss me, but instead was willing to listen to my concerns, willing to discuss proactive measures. I was so grateful for that, because at last, someone was listening to me. At last, I was being heard. 

My decision to undergo a preventative prophylactic double mastectomy wasn't made lightly. No woman wants to face this kind of experience, but what mother wouldn’t do anything to stay alive for her children? What wife wouldn’t for her husband? What physician wouldn’t for her patients? 

<p>Dr. Thaïs Aliabadi/instagram</p> Dr. Thaïs Aliabadi.

Dr. Thaïs Aliabadi/instagram

Dr. Thaïs Aliabadi.

As my surgery date beckoned, I faced criticism and accusations of paranoia from everyone around me, including doctors I’d worked with across professional settings, friends I’d known my whole life and family members who simply couldn’t put themselves in my shoes. Deep down, I knew that this decision was the right choice for myself, for my husband and children, and for everyone whom I loved. I wanted to stack the odds in my favor, to be there for my children to see them become successful adults and live a long, healthy life with my husband. I wanted to give my patients a physician who would fight for them with the same ferocity she’d fight for her own life, and so, I underwent the double mastectomy. 

I documented my journey, not out of vanity, but as a testament to the importance of advocating for oneself in the face of dismissal or skepticism. It wasn't easy, but I refused to let fear or doubt dictate my decisions. The surgery was grueling, lasting 10 hours, with unexpected complications that required blood transfusions. Yet even in the midst of recovery, there was a sense of relief, a sense of peace knowing I had taken control of my health destiny. 

After my surgery, I was in the car coming home from back-to-school shopping at Staples, and I received a call that changed everything. On the other end of the line, my surgeon delivered the news: despite all the biopsies on my left breast, I had cancer. I had cancer silently, lethally growing inside my right breast that had gone undetected. 37.5 — a number that came to my mind, that still comes to my mind, reminding me what happens when we take control of our own health destiny. 

Related: Olivia Munn Says Not Being Able to Pick Up Son After Mastectomy Was 'One of the Hardest Things’ (Exclusive)

In that moment, I was hit with a whirlwind of emotions — shock, anger, disappointment and relief. Shock at the unexpected twist in my journey, anger at the oversight that led to my cancer being missed, disappointment that so many people refused to listen to me and relief that I had trusted my instincts and taken proactive steps to safeguard my health.

And then, another emotion, even more powerful: resolve. After that call, tears streamed down my cheeks, and the resolve that ballooned inside my mind reverberated, imploring me to recognize my health destiny was far from over. I looked at my daughters, knowing that I could give them a tool by providing them with access to a lifetime risk calculator. I thought of all the women in my life — those in my family, in my community, in my office. I thought of all the women in the world — and I resolved to share my journey with them in hopes of encouraging each female over the age of 25 to calculate her lifetime risk, and then, most importantly, act upon it. 

My journey taught me invaluable lessons about the importance of self-advocacy, the limitations of medical reassurances, and the power of knowledge in shaping our health decisions. I may have been dismissed by the medical community at times, but I will always refuse to be dismissed by my own body. It’s something all women should refuse to do, too. 

In sharing my story, I hope to empower others to trust their instincts, ask questions and take control of their health journey, because when it comes to our well-being, we are our own best advocates.

I want to encourage women to learn about their lifetime risk of breast cancer by utilizing the Tyrer-Cuzick model, which can be found on This tool provides valuable insights into individual risk factors and offers actionable steps to manage and mitigate potential risks. By arming ourselves with knowledge, we can make informed decisions and proactively safeguard our health, taking control over our destinies and together, fighting the epidemic of breast cancer proactively. 

It’s what we owe to ourselves, to those in our lives, and to everyone who lost that battle by not knowing their risk soon enough.

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Read the original article on People.