The recent news of Angelina Jolie’s preventative double mastectomy has made headlines. I’m sure that wasn’t an easy decision, and I applaud her for a) undergoing the surgery and b) being secure enough in her sexuality to know that her femininity does not depend on her breasts. If I was a woman, I can only imagine how hard that decision must be.
The reality is that when you have the mutated BRCA1/BRCA2 genes, your chances of getting ovarian and/or breast cancer increase greatly. This is because the BCRA1/BRCA2 genes are suppose to help your body detect DNA damage (which leads to cancer) and kill those cells in their tracks! When these genes are mutated, they doesn’t function properly, potentially leaving pre-cancerous cells to mature into full blown cancer.
However, though this is true, what Jolie’s announcement fails to mention is that there are more options than waiting for cancer or cutting a part of your body. The whole field of epigenetics encompasses this third option - it’s the ability of the environment to turn genes on and off. Now, while I’m not condemning Jolie, or saying that the third option should have been her ONLY choice, I do think the women of the world should know that there is a third option. So how does epigenetics work into breast cancer risk? While we can’t correct the mutation of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene with epigenetics, there are many OTHER genes that perform similar tasks to the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene. We can turn those genes ON instead of having them lay dormant and so we can decrease our risk of breast and ovarian cancer!
What Karolyn Gazella, publisher of Natural Medicine Journal, said in her article about Jolie’s mastectomy is very important:
“Specific to BRCA1 and BRCA2, a 2009 study featured in the journal Breast Cancer Research and Treatment demonstrated that women with the inherited mutation who ate more fruits and vegetables significantly reduced their risk of developing cancer compared to the women with the mutation who ate fewer fruits and vegetables.
In a 2006 study also featured in Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, women who carried the mutation and had normal weight and prevented weight gain as they aged also had much lower risk of developing cancer than women with the mutation who were overweight.”
I want women (and men with similar mutated genes) to understand that there are more options than watching and waiting vs. preventative surgery. For some people like Angelina Jolie, who have the BRCA1 gene, AND a strong family history - a double mastectomy is something to consider. However, just because you have a family history of breast cancer does not mean you have the mutated BRCA1/BRCA2 gene. Therefore, in regards to prevention, there are a whole slew of nutritional and natural interventions to consider before deciding on the invasive double mastectomy.
The message being sent makes it seem like the BRCA1 gene is incredibly common. In fact, it’s rare - only 5-10% of breast cancers are attributed to BRCA1/BRCA2 mutations. And, at the end of the day, though surgery is the best preventative treatment for SOME, it cannot be the ideal for all. Simply cutting out the breasts and ovaries of millions of women is not curative.
Antioxidants, indole-3-carbinol, turmeric, estrogen modulating foods - these are all things that can help your body decrease it’s cancer risk. So, again, though I’m not criticizing Angelina Jolie’s choice, I do want you all to know that there IS a third option.