The world was abuzz when news first broke out last month about Angelina Jolieâ€™s decision to have a double mastectomy. Her decision to undergo the preemptive surgery earlier this year was due to the fact that she tested positive for BRCA 1.
What is BRCA1?
If you havenâ€™t gone scrambling to your computer toÂ GoogleÂ what it means, hereâ€™s a short background:
There are types of tumor-suppressing Â genes and these include BRCA1 and BRCA2. The full names of these genes are breast cancer susceptibility gene 1 and breast cancer susceptibility gene 2. Normally, these genes aid in stabilizing the cellâ€™s DNA and preventing uncontrollable cell growth. However, if harmful mutations exist in the BRCA genes, these can lead to either breast or ovarian cancer.
Though BRCA1 and BRCA2 are very similar, it is the harmful mutations in the former that are more dangerous since breast cancers caused by this gene are harder to treat. It is unlike the tumors caused by BRCA2 mutations, which can be treated using hormone therapies.
What are the chances?
The National Cancer Institute has stated that about 12% of the female population will most likely develop breast cancer at some point in their lives. For women who have been tested positive for a harmful BRCA mutation, the risk of developing breast cancer is multiplied. For Jolie, whose mother Marcheline Bertrand died of ovarian cancer in 2007 and whose aunt recently died of breast cancer, the chances of developing either is even higher, which is why she decided to undergo the preventive surgery that would minimize her risk of getting the disease.
In the New York Times article that contained Jolieâ€™s revelation, she explains how her children were a major factor in her decision to have double mastectomy. SheÂ didn’tÂ want them to fear that they would lose her to breast cancer. After her operation, she reveals that her chances of developing the disease has significantly dropped from the doctorâ€™s estimate of 87% to under 5%. Jolie urges women especially those with a family history of having breast or ovarian cancer, to take initiative and look up information on the topic and to seek advice from medical experts. She hopes to inspire them to make informed choices as they deal with this difficult aspect of life.
Knowing your family’s medical background is important…
If you are adopted or are estranged from your family, itâ€™s best that you do some investigation regarding your familyâ€™s medical background so you can take the necessary precautions against diseases like hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. If you need help searching for family online, you can use the search by zip code function of Mylife.com. When you find your biological family, you can learn about family conditions that have been passed on from generation to generation, including what are the odds of you getting a condition like diabetes.
The decision to get double mastectomy is not for everyone. Still it is better to be aware of the risks and the steps you can take to minimize that risk so you can live your life to the fullest.