Yesterday's announcement by Angelina Jolie of her preventative double mastectomy has caused quite a stir among women around the world. Her sex appeal is a large part of her identity and removing her very beautiful breasts must have been a difficult choice. Her article My Medical Choice in the New York Times talks about her decision to have both her breasts removed because of her high risk of acquiring breast cancer. Her mum fought the disease for 10 years before dying at the age of 56. Angelina's risk of breast cancer decreased from 87% to 5% after the surgeries.
Coincidentally, I had my annual gynaecologist visit today and decided to ask my doctor more about Angelina's story and how it affects me.
She said that most breast cancer cases are sporadic, i.e. not as a result of genetic predisposition. There are sectors of the population who are at higher risk for breast cancer and carry the defective BRCA1 (pronounced Bracar) gene. Jewish and Portuguese women are two such groups.
The gene test is prohibitively expensive for the average non-Angelina type person but your gynaecologist will advise you accordingly if you are at high risk.
So, how has Angelina's breasts removal changed my life:
- It's been reinforced to me how crucial annual gynaecologist appointments are.
- I am now determined to document my family health history to have a clear idea of what I may be at risk for.
- I've learnt that these are some of the factors that increase one's chances of breast cancer:
- More than 2 alcoholic beverages a day
- Not having children <I was surprised by this>
- Early Puberty and Late Menopause
- Hormone Replacement Therapy
A healthy lifestyle and regular checkups will go a long way towards preventing breast cancer. Please spread the word to the women in your lives.