Even before the Human Genome Project blossomed with a map of all the genes in the body some genes had been identified as putting people at high risk for serious diseases such as breast and ovarian cancer. Actress Angelina Jolie is making news because she chose to have both breasts removed, with reconstruction with breast implants following. She made that aggressive cancer prevention choice because she was told a test result showed she carried the “breast and ovarian cancer genes”: BRCA1 and BRACA2. Her mother died of breast cancer.
Breast removal in an otherwise healthy woman, and removal of the ovaries too, are major cancer prevention choices. But, when the genetic risk is there, it could be lifesaving and certainly lessens the fear of living with a ticking time bomb. Kudos to Ms. Jolie for going public with this.
It’s important to note that it is a minority of breast and ovarian cancers where a genetic cause has been identified. There may be other bad genetic predispositions at work, we just haven’t found them yet. Not long ago I hosted an audio interview program, “Genetic Testing for Breast and Ovarian Cancer Risk” with a gynecologic oncologist and her patient, who also decided to have preventive surgery. This discussion helps put the issue in perspective and explains the hard choices.
Angelina Jolie gets us thinking about cancer prevention, and she “took it to the max.” But people can also lower their risk of cancer in much less aggressive ways too. Being informed, and making the right choices for one’s personal situation, is always a good thing.