If you follow celebrity news (or any news, for that matter), you might have heard by now that Angelina Jolie cut her boobs off. OK, in more respectful terms, she had her breasts surgically removed, undergoing a double mastectomy.
I didn’t know she even had cancer, did you? Oh wait… SHE DIDN’T.
What she did have was the advice of a doctor after she tested positive for the BRCA1 gene. The BRCA genes (BRCA1 and BRCA2) are what the Mayo Clinic refers to as “breast cancer susceptibility genes.” Mayo says that women who have “inherited mutations in these genes face a much higher risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer compared with the general population.”
How much of a higher risk? According to the latest research, inherited BRCA gene mutations are responsible for about five (5) percent of breast cancers and about 10 to 15 percent of ovarian cancers.
So, what is responsible for the other 95 percent? There are many unknown causes of all cancers; but we do know that things like poor nutrition and diet, lack of exercise, irresponsible sunlight exposure, and ingesting cancer-causing chemicals play a huge role in whether an individual develops cancer or not.
Three Cheers for Jolie?
Both the media and women around the world are heralding Angelina Jolie and her brave step to save her life.
But remember that tiny little part about her not even being sick?
What sort of message does this send to all women – not just those who have a family history of breast cancer? With media outlets such as the New York Times and Business Week supporting Jolie in her decision to undergo the surgery, the message seems loud and clear: “off with your breasts!” In fact, there’s a sensation of empowerment for doing something completely ridiculous.
Empowerment? Do you think a man would feel empowered, or be viewed as a trail blazer of men’s health if he cut off his testicles for no good reason?
Cancer Here, Cancer There
There is a wide-spread notion that removing your breasts via double mastectomy will save your life, regardless of your family history.
The thing is, it won’t necessarily. We all have the potential for cancer within our bodies. What you do with your body – how you treat it, the nutrients you give it – that all comes into play. In fact some studies are suggesting that you can reduce your risk of all cancer by almost 80 percent, simply by getting enough vitamin D.
But see, the cancer “industry” (and yes, there is a cancer industry) preys on individuals’ fears of cancer; mostly irrational fears. And they make money on your fear – billions of dollars a year.
The BRCA Boom
Here’s what no one seems to be talking about: how much money is the company that performs the BRCA tests making? Myriad, the company that developed testing on the BRCA gene has a patent on it. In fact the company claims that it “owns” all rights to the gene and testing, and is in the middle of a Supreme Court battle because of those claims.
Organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Association of Molecular Pathology have challenged the patent, calling it “unconstitutional and invalid.”
Given that the test can cost up to $4,000 a pop, it’s no wonder Myriad wants to keep the rights to BRCA. While Myriad claims that insurance helps reduce the cost, and that 95 percent of individuals who undergo the test pay little to nothing, someone is making some big bucks. They have a great PR spin, however. Ron Rogers, spokesperson for Myriad, says that for patients without insurance, the company will administer the test for free or at a “greatly reduced cost.” I bet they do.
Did I mention that on the day Jolie revealed to the world her decision, Myriad’s stocks were up two (2) percent in mid-day trading? Hmmm… perhaps they hired Jolie to be their new face, or rather chest, of the company?
No one is saying that you shouldn’t consider this option, especially if you’re at extreme risk. All anyone is asking is that you weigh your options heavily. The Mayo clinic states that genetic counseling should be a significant part of any decision regarding tests like these. Just because you test positive for something like the BRCA gene, doesn’t mean that you should go cut off your breasts the next day. Please, PLEASE don’t be influenced simply because a celebrity has done it. This is one time where you don’t want to follow the crowd.
Bottom line: take care of your body; take care of yourself. Don’t hastily cut off your boobs.