Is a Preventative Double Mastectomy the Right Choice? Hear Both Sides.
As you may probably have heard, Angelina Jolie recently came forward in The New York Times about her decision to have a double mastectomy. She did it in an attempt to prevent cancer because her doctors claimed that she had an estimated 87% chance of getting breast cancer after she tested positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation. Her decision is being met with both praise for “taking control” of prevention- even calling her heroic, as well as criticism from those who claim she could have kept the gene from switching on if she maintained a healthy lifestyle.
This is a very important blog. Please take a few moments to read this all the way through to the END, so you have more knowledge to empower yourself, and forward this to all the women in your life.
Because her mother died of cancer and got it at an early age, I can’t really say I blame Angelina for being nervous and taking such an extreme route as a double mastectomy in an attempt to protect herself, especially if the doctors she was working with were really pushing that option. But I can’t say that I think it was her only option at this point. And if you’re nervous about your own health and your own options, keep in mind, her case was very, very special. The doctor’s estimate of her breast cancer risk, if accurate, was far from an average woman’s likelihood of developing the disease (the average woman only has a 12-13% chance). Angelina’s chances were also at the higher end of the supposed range even for those with the BRCA1 gene mutation. On the Susan B Komen breastcancer site, the risk level for those with the BRCA1 gene mutation is stated to be much lower (50-70%), and it states:
Women who carry a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation have an increased risk of breast cancer [7-9]. Estimates of this increased risk vary greatly. Women who carry a BRCA1 gene mutation have a 50 to 70 percent chance of developing breast cancer by age 70…
Together, BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are thought to explain a large portion of hereditary breast cancers . Most breast cancers, however, are not hereditary. And, many women with a BRCA1 mutation will never have breast cancer [7-9]. Thus, a combination of factors likely determines who will get breast cancer.
With the information she was given, she made the choice she felt was best for herself and her family, and I can’t fault her for that. We all have to have to make our own decisions and do what we feel is best.
That said, I’m a firm believer in what a healthy lifestyle can do to prevent cancer and possibly even keep those mutations from becoming deadly in women and men (yes, men can have the gene mutation, too!) who have inherited an increased likelihood of developing breast cancer. By first removing and reducing toxicity building up in your body, as you do in the Beauty Detox program, and then refraining from bombarding it again with more toxins from processed foods, pesticides, bad habits like smoking and excessive drinking, swaying away from diets like the raspberry diet, and harmful ingredients in skin care and cleaning products, you’re keeping your body from becoming an inviting playground for cancer cells to proliferate. Eat your Beauty Foods not just to look gorgeous, but to defend yourself from disease. When your body is more alkaline, and there is an abundance of oxygen in your system, it supports a healthy, disease-free state. Removing the toxins is a lot less drastic than removing your breasts when there’s no cancer there, and that, too, could help save your life. Anyone can make healthy lifestyle choices as a preventive measure; you don’t need to be tested for a gene mutation.
Genes only account for 5% to 10% of a woman’s likelihood of getting cancer. Some of those genes are inherited, while others are acquired by exposure to chemicals and radiation. Even identical twins only had a 20% concordance rate where breast cancer was concerned, so clearly a person’s lifestyle is much more predictive of the cancer risk than genes are. Breast cancer cases also tie into other factors, such as obesity and excessive alcohol consumption, two things that are addressed when you’re on the Beauty Detox plan.
You may also be inhibiting those mutated genes from taking effect when you make healthy lifestyle choices, like maintaining a plant-based diet rich in antioxidants (the more fresh and colorful your diet, the better!), getting regular exercise, not smoking, enjoying some time in the sun (not too much, but some!), and keeping your weight within a healthy range along with your routine breast cancer checks.
Reasons Not to Assume the Preventive Surgery Is the Best—or Only–Solution
Having a preventive double mastectomy based on a test for a BRCA1 gene mutation is being touted as the most effective way to avoid breast cancer. But is it? Breast tissue goes beyond the breasts and into the chest cavity, under the arms, in the abdomen, and above the collarbone. Not all of that will be removed, so the risk of developing breast cancer still exists. What you eat and the activities you engage in will affect all the cells in your body, not just the ones that are removed.
The breast cancer risk for those with the gene mutation may not be as high as you think to begin with (or as high as they Myriad Genetics company and doctors are telling you). The statistics being tossed around claiming that there’s up to an 87 percent chance of developing breast cancer when you test positive for the gene mutation are based on studies of women who had lots of breast and ovarian cancer cases in their families.
Those patients wouldn’t have needed genetic testing to tell them they had an elevated risk of some kind or that they needed to be particularly diligent about their routine breast exams, diet, habits, and physical activity. Someone with the BRCA1 gene mutation and only one case of breast cancer in their family would most likely not have an 80 percent risk. It would probably be much lower than that (and again, the risk would correlate to the lifestyle), and hardly a reason to opt for a preventive double-mastectomy. In essence, the gene testing tells you nothing new, and instead can frighten you into an unnecessary surgery that will permanently alter your body, your mind, and your life.
There are lots of potential side effects that go along with mastectomies, so having the surgery as a preventive measure based on a test that can’t guarantee that you’ll get cancer is not a decision that should be taken lightly. Those test results tell one tiny part of the story; your lifestyle tells so much more.
Even if you are a carrier of the BRCA1 gene mutation, that does not mean there’s breast cancer in your future, even without the surgery. In BRCA1 mutation carriers, other things come into play. For example, hormones and how the body handles DNA damage are factors. Even genetically, the risk for breast cancer is tied to more than just this one gene. You can powerfully use your lifestyle and the environment in which you choose to live as the way to assert your control over your risk of getting cancer.
If the test, which costs $3000 or more because of a patent that belongs to Myriad Genetics and may not be covered by insurance, gives you a false positive (which is completely possible), then you could not only lose your breasts (if you choose to go that route) and set yourself up for months of surgeries, treatments, and painful recovery, you could lose thousands and thousands of dollars to the pharmaceutical industry–all for nothing. From a financial standpoint, the pharmaceutical industry is really the one who stands to gain something if women begin taking these preventive measures in droves instead of being diligent about living clean, healthy lives and continuing their regular breast exams to catch cancer early if it does happen.
The benefits of the preventive surgery could be overblown, too. In an article in the Journal of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, which studied high-risk women who had double-mastectomies and a control group of women who did not, the results looked as if the surgery was incredibly effective (1.9% of the women in the first group got breast cancer over 5.5 years after the follow-up, and 49% of the women who did not have surgery got breast cancer). However, there were concerns regarding selection bias in this particular study, and the results could have been skewed. That’ s not to say that the double mastectomy isn’t effective at preventing cancer, just that it may not be as effective as it’s believed to be and it may not reduce a woman’s chances of developing the cancer so drastically.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t be tested for the BRCA gene mutation if you’re likely to have it, just for peace of mind or because you know you would still definitely want to take extreme preventive measures if your results were positive (there are pros and cons to having the testing done). Again, gather all the information you can first, before you make the decision that is right for you. It’s just important to be aware of the everyday changes, the ways you can cleanse your body, that anyone can do whether they can afford or want/need to have the testing done.
Other Factors Could Play into Risks, Even with the BRCA1 Mutation
Some people with the BRCA1 mutation get breast cancer as early as their 20s. Some get it much later in life. Some may never develop it at all. That means there’s most likely something else going on that’s causing so much variation from person to person, and breast cancer may not occur just because of that gene mutation in those who test positive for it. Could those differentiating factors be dependent upon lifestyle choices, nutrition, and general health? Why not? We already know that lifestyle and diet factor into cancer risks in people who do not have the gene mutation.
Some foods are known to inhibit the growth of breast cancer cells:
- Brazil nuts and mushrooms are high in selenium, which has demonstrated its effectiveness in preventing breast cancer.
- Leafy greens help prevent cancer because their carotenoids help push free radicals out of the body.
- Bell peppers are Beauty Vegetables that offer antioxidants that sweep more toxins from your body. They also purify your cells. Try my Rainbow Stuffed Bell Pepper recipe, a healthy alternative to many other oily dishes.
- Turmeric contains curcumin, an antioxidant that has been tied to inhibiting cancer growth. You can incorporate turmeric into your diet with Veggie-Turmeric Quinoa.
- Beets have been shown to suppress tumor growth.
- Flaxseed has been shown to reduce the growth and spread of breast cancer cells in mice. Sprinkle some freshly ground flaxseeds on your salads or soups.
- Berries, blueberries in particular, have also been tied to long-term breast cancer prevention.
- Raw and short-cooked cabbage and sauerkraut have been associated with a decreased risk of developing breast cancer. There’s one more reason to eat your Probiotic & Enzyme Salad.
- Peaches and plums have been shown to inhibit growth of breast cancer cells.
- Fiber, like that found in the Glowing Green Smoothie, and cilantro to help carry the toxins out of your body as you detox.
Physical activity is also strongly linked to a person’s likelihood of developing breast cancer. A woman’s sedentary lifestyle can increase her breast cancer risk because of “higher serum concentration of estradiol, lower concentration of hormone-binding globulin, larger fat masses, and higher serum insulin levels.”
Something else you can do: get outside! In a study conducted by the Northern California Cancer Center and the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at the University of Miami, it showed that vitamin D from exposure to sunlight could reduce the risk of breast cancer between 25% and 65%. Do something fun and enjoy the benefits of taking a few moments of down time to recharge and de-stress. Of course, just as everything else, do not overdo sun exposure.
Your diet and lifestyle can do a lot to prevent diseases, including breast cancer. You have a lot of power in the daily way you choose to live your life! Those considerations are often overlooked when solutions like preventive double-mastectomies are in the spotlight, but a diet rich in organic, colorful produce, fiber, and antioxidants is the best defense against a cancer risk and sweeps toxins out of your body, too.
I hope this gives you more helpful information to empower you in determining what is best for you and your body. Please pass along, so we can all be more powerful with the more knowledge we have.