So I’ve been reading up a bit about breast cancer, especially after Angelina Jolie’s dramatic double mastectomy. I remembered the discussions my Medical Anthropology group had during my Masters about women who decide to have a preventive mastectomy and why they choose to do it, cause the truth is mastectomy is not the first medical option for a woman at risk of breast cancer.
I am not knocking Angela Jolie’s choice and that of women like her, it is a difficult and emotionally draining choice to make. Talk of the physical pain of surgery. But, I also hope that women who are told that they are at risk of BRCA following screening do not all jump onto the painful bandwagon of mastectomy.
First line actions include:
- Active monitoring – the person receives annual screening, mammographs or MRI scans to monitor breast tissue.
- Changes in lifestyle are encouraged to reduce individual risk – Stop smoking, maintain a healthy weight, healthy diet, reduce if not stop drinking alcohol, exercise, sun protection and ehh breastfeeding (nature has a way of getting its revenge).
- Radiotherapy or chemotherapy whose cure rates are high and continue to improve.
- Removal of affected breast tissues (lumpectomy).
I will reiterate…that genes/gene testing is not the be-all and end-all in the fight against cancer or most other diseases. They are just only one piece of the complex puzzle.
Every woman has breast cancer genes BRCA1, BRCA2, TP53, PTEN. The risk of it becoming a cancer occurs if a mutation develops in one of the genes.
About 1 in 500 women have a high risk mutation of the genes associated with breast cancer. However having this high risk mutation does not mean that a woman will develop BRCA. A bit like Russian roulette innit?
Breast cancer screening programmes do not predict individual outcome/prognosis of a person found to have breast cancer. In some cases the cancerous cells can spread rapidly posing a significant risk to health. In others the cancerous cells are much less aggressive so the cancer has no impact on life expectancy. A bit like Russian roulette isn’t it?
This uncertainty leads to what researchers call Overdiagnosis – where women who are diagnosed as having breast cancer following screening, are given treatment and exposed to all its attendant harm (radiotherapy etc) only to subsequently have cancers that would never have caused symptoms in their lifetime.
Check this out
Based on evidence available, for every 100,000 women invited to screening from age 50 for 20yrs
681 breast cancers will be diagnosed
129 of these diagnoses will be Overdiagnosed
43 deaths from breast cancer averted.
So for every one death, there are 3 cases for Overdiagnosis or unnecessary treatment.
Ginger what are you trying to say? Don’t be scared if you get a breast cancer diagnosis? Don’t believe the result? Bind it in Jesus name?
No, I am not saying that o. Though te last suggestion is greatly recommended. I’m just saying that screening results are not a life sentence, don’t make rash decisions based on it. Discuss with your doctor. Seek second and third opinions.
We all have cancer: we all have abnormal cells that can potentially spiral out of control. Making the decision to live a more healthy life reduces cancer risks considerably. Start today.
P.S. In the UK, BRCA screening is offered to women 50 yrs and above. While women with a family history of BRCA are screened from their thirties. Know your family history. Know your risk. Love your breasts.
P.P.S. Info was obtained from NHS choices website