Not too long ago, Angelina Jolie set off a media furore when she had both of her breasts removed as a breast cancer preventive measure. Jolie made the decision after her mother died of breast cancer at the age of 56 and genetic testing later indicated that Jolie carried the BRCA gene mutation that signals an increased risk of breast cancer.
As a result, she scheduled her double mastectomy and made a public announcement in which she advised women to “seek out the information and medical experts who can help you.”
Experts who can help you
The second point Jolie made in her statement, is the one she should have placed the most emphasis on: Seek out experts who can help you.
Before I continue, I need to be clear on two things:
1. I am not saying that breast cancer is not a concern that women shouldn’t take seriously.
2. I am not saying that genetic factors do not play a role in some cases of the disease developing.
What I am saying is: Get all the information you need before making a drastic decision about an irreversible procedure, like having a double mastectomy as a preventative measure.
There are a lot of misconceptions about breast cancer, which lead many women to take drastic actions. That was clear when a University of Michigan team reviewed the medical records for nearly 1,500 breast cancer patients.
Based on their results, the researchers found that a large majority of women with breast cancer in one breast who opted for a double mastectomy were at low risk of developing cancer in the healthy breast.
In fact, their risk was so low that they should have been discouraged from having such a radical procedure. When family history is combined with BRCA mutation, it’s not time to schedule surgery, it’s time to call in the “medical experts”, like a genetic counsellor. These counsellors explore many aspects of a woman’s family history, health, and genetic profile to determine her risk.
Rushing into a mastectomy based on just family history and BRCA mutation is a one-size-fits-all decision. And sadly, in the Michigan study, some of the women who opted for removal of healthy breasts didn’t even have the red flags of family history or BRCA. That sounds an awful lot like many of them were coaxed into making decisions.
Wishing you the best of health,
Disclaimer: Bear in mind the material contained in this article is provided for information purposes only. We are not addressing anyone’s personal situation. Please consult with your own physician before acting on any recommendations contained herein.
Most women who have double mastectomy don’t need it, U-M study finds (mcancer.org)