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Angelina Jolie Double Mastectomy: Should You Worry About BRCA?

Angelina’s Double Mastectomy Decision

Angelina Jolie’s decision to undergo a double mastectomy as a breast cancer preventive step has taken the media by storm.  Angelina is clearly a very decisive woman, unwilling to wait for life to take control of her if she can help it.  It is this kind of decision-making that is probably at the core of her success in real life.   Does not mean we agree with it, but we have to admire her gumption.

She is obviously also very conscious of her public image – if Angelina sneezes, the world gives her a tissue and she knows it.  After a rapid execution of what would have been a very private decision for most people, she stepped out and made a very clear, well thought out announcement in a New York Times op-ed that takes away any confusion regarding why she chose to do what she did.  It was clearly a strongly emotion-based decision based on losing her mother early in life to breast cancer, and her concern about protecting her children if a similar fate were to overtake her as well.

She must have been thoroughly convinced that the steps she was taking would greatly diminish the risk factors and would allow her to live her life to the fullest.  And that is what we sincerely pray for her and everyone else faced with this dilemma.


The Problem of Influence

It is clear that she did not want her actions to be misunderstood and wanted the reasons to be clearly spelled out.  However, inadvertently or otherwise, she now stands tall on a pedestal as a crusader for mastectomy as a preventive measure.

Her article strongly suggests her opinion without actually spelling it out – that women should get tested for the BRCA genes, despite the expense, and should consider getting a pre-emptive double mastectomy done if they find they are at risk.  We have no doubt that many other women will at least want to, and some actually will, copy her.  This could be a refreshing new boost of business for unscrupulous surgeons across the country.  Her article in many ways falls just legally short of providing unsolicited medical advice.  That being said, many women are more likely to follow her example than their doctor’s advice.

Will women start taking preventive action of this nature, whether or not it is called for?  Did Angelina make the right decision based on the right information?  Let us answer some questions about BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 and then talk about the philosophy of the cancer terrain.


What are the BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 genes?

Genetically, our body is pre-disposed to fight cancer.  It does so with the help of genes that have a tumor suppressing impact.  Mutations to the BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 explain the hereditary appearance of breast cancer in certain families.  BRCA stands for Breast Cancer Susceptibility Gene.   When these genes are mutated, they fail to trigger the body mechanisms to suppress tumor growth.  BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 are not the only genes involved in breast cancer expression, but they explain most cases of hereditary breast cancer.

Interestingly, mutated BRCA genes also appear to increase the risk of not only breast cancer in men, but also pancreatic, testicular and early-onset prostate cancer.


What is the Risk of Developing BRCA-Associated Breast Cancer?

From a risk standpoint, a woman who carries the BRCA-1 or BRCA-2 has a 5-fold higher risk of contracting breast cancer.  However, here are a couple of reasons why most women have no reason to start worrying about getting a BRCA genetic test, or even consider double mastectomy:

1.  The BRCA mutations are estimated to affect only 1 in 400 to 1 in 800 women.  In percentages, that numbers lies in between 0.125% to 0.25%.  While the risk might be higher, many women carrying BRCA mutations never get cancer, lowering the risk even further.

2.  The 5-fold excess risk factor estimated for women carrying the BRCA mutation is based on studies done on families that have many women affected by breast cancer, representing a well established BRCA gene tendency.  In other words, for most women carrying the BRCA gene, that risk is bound to be less.

3.  The risk factor is assessed as that of getting breast cancer anytime during the person’s life.  The lifetime risk of any woman getting cancer is 1 in 3, and that for men is 1 in 2.  When extrapolated over a lifetime, the immediate risk is not that high any more.  However, the perceived risk is a lot higher.  It is known that the fear factor of getting cancer leading to emotional imbalance can become a trigger for cancer by itself.

We would think that for most women, the detection of a positive BRCA mutation would cause a strong emotional disturbance as it must have caused for Angelina Jolie.  In her case, she channeled her fears by taking the action she most closely believed in.  For most other cases, people will for the most part live in fear, which is not a healthy way to live.

The strength of the genetic transmission, other environmental risk factors that may be part of the familial culture (such as nutrition, exposure to certain chemicals, geography, exercise habits and more) could contribute to increasing that risk beyond what it actually is.  In other words, just because someone has a BRCA mutation, does not mean that they are pre-destined to get cancer.

Genes have to be triggered. They can be triggered by improper nutrition, environmental toxins, carcinogens, emotional shock and more factors.  Just as they can be turned on, they can be turned off as well.  That, we believe, must be the focus of treating this problem.


What Does Conventional Medicine Provide as Options for BRCA Positive Individuals?

First of all, the BRCA test itself costs thousands of dollars thanks to a patent held on the BRCA genetic test by a pharmaceutical company.  This itself will stop most individuals from getting tested.

For a BRCA positive patient, conventional medicine does not have a standard response protocol quite yet.  However, these are some steps that are recommended by various doctors:  enhanced surveillance using various diagnostic tools including mammograms, ultrasounds and MRIs, prophylactic mastectomy (such as what Angelina got done), risk avoidance (modifying cancer inducing behaviors), chemoprevention (using tumor suppressor chemotherapy preventively).


Deconstruction, Reconstruction … Ultimate Destruction

Conventional medicine is based on a “bow and arrow” philosophy.  You decide on a target, create an arrow capable of hitting it, and have a bow that is capable of delivering the arrow.  The human body, however, is not constructed that way.  Many biochemical pathways work in unity to create a highly complex whole, and shutting down one pathway, simply triggers another.  This becomes the fate of those who embrace conventional medicine to address their medical issues – over a long term, the body becomes completely dependent on the external switches, and, with a now deconstructed immune system, stops relying on the beautiful internal relays that have been intricately laid out for us to live our fulfilling lives.

Removing breasts or ovaries does not eliminate the BRCA genes or their ability to trigger oncogenic processes in the body.  Taking away potentially “target” tissue is simply not the answer.


Changing the Environment that Triggers the Genes

Most people do not realize that they slowly indulge in habits or live in environments that builds up a cancer favoring environment in their body.   The answer really lies in changing the environment that triggers the genes.  At Hope4Cancer Treatment Centers in Mexico, Dr. Antonio Jimenez encourages every patient to adhere to the Seven Principles of Cancer Therapy.

Dr. Jimenez states, “The fact is that our body is dealing with cancer triggers ALL the time!   Most cancers can be stopped on their tracks by maintaining a strong immune system, adhering to a strict nutritional regimen, removing toxins and microbial influences, proper oxygenation, hydration and exercise, and finally by maintaining a strong emotional and spiritual balance.”  Get the body right, he urges.

Does this totally take away the risk of cancer development?  Maybe not – but it certainly keeps you on the winning track.  In contrast, drastic measures such as double mastectomies only promote a reliance on unnatural methods to fix the problems of nature’s greatest miracle – you.

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