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In 2013, actress, filmmaker, and human rights activist Angelina Jolie made headlines by announcing that she had undergone a preventative double mastectomy. The reason: A family history of breast cancer (her mother had died of it) and what she called a “faulty gene,” referring to the BRCA gene (BRCA 1).
Jolie is a talented and extremely intelligent woman. I cannot judge her personal decision to take the course of action she did when it came to her own health. A woman’s decision when it comes to breast cancer is a personal one and must be respected. When that woman is a celebrity and decides to discuss the matter in a public forum using medical generalities that are debatable at best, this becomes cause for concern, however.
To me, her decision begs the question ─ were Ms. Jolie’s doctors telling her the whole story about BRCA1? I suspect that they did not.
If they had told her the whole truth, would she have still made the decision that she did?
The Truth: BRCA1 and BRCA1 Gene Mutations DO NOT Inevitably Lead to Breast Cancer
Angelina Jolie’s decision to remove both of her breasts was based on the advice of medical professionals — doctors, surgeons, oncologists (no doubt she had access to the best of them). In an Op-Ed piece for the New York Times, Jolie stated:
“My doctors estimated that I had an 87 percent risk of breast cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer, although the risk is different in the case of each woman…Only a fraction of breast cancers result from an inherited gene mutation. Those with a defect in BRCA1 have a 65 percent risk of getting it, on average.”
The above comment leads one to believe that BRCA1 represents a single defect, and a possibly deadly one at that. This is only a half truth. First of all, BRCA1 and BRCA2 (which stand for Breast Cancer 1 and 2) are tumor suppressor genes. They produce a protein which assists in DNA damage repair caused by, according to the U.S. National Institute of Health, “natural and medical radiation or other environmental exposures.” If there is a mutation in this gene, then what is actually happening is that the gene is not doing its job. I.e. the DNA damage is not being repaired, thus leading to a higher risk of cancer.
The second clarification that needs to be made is the statistical determination that Ms. Jolie mentioned in her Op-Ed: “Those with a defect in BRCA1 have a 65 percent risk of getting [breast cancer], on average.”
Two factors cloud this oversimplified message that conventional medicine is promoting en masse to the general public. Firstly, according to the National Cancer Institute, to date there has been no long-term general population studies regarding BRCA1 or BRCA2. Secondly, there are literally thousands of possibly BRCA 1 and 2 gene mutations, many of which actually reduce the risk of breast cancer. According to a 2011 study conducted by the University of California, San Francisco, “It seems that some polymorphisms may actually have a protective effect.”
Gene Expression is NOT the Largest Determining Factor for Breast Cancer
The days when a person’s DNA was their destiny is over. Increasing study into the area of epigenetics is revealing the overwhelming influence of environmental factors in the proliferation of disease. Toxic exposure and toxic lifestyle choices, including stress, may account for as much as 95 percent of the factors associated with disease of all kinds.
In fact, a study published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine found that the trauma associated with a cancer diagnosis can cause a 26-fold increase in “adrenaline-mediated multi-drug resistance” and, subsequently, heart-related deaths. More relevant to this discussion is the fact that only 2 percent of women in the US who have a family history of breast cancer may test positive for gene mutation. According to the Centers for Disease prevention, “In some families breast cancer or ovarian cancer will occur due to inherited mutations in genes other than BRCA1/2. However, this is uncommon.”
When it comes to statistical causes for cancer ─ including breast cancer ─ environmental toxins beat genetics, hands down. Yet, when was the last time a major news source promoted this fact?
The Medical Industry’s Real Agenda
This fact is probably the hardest one to swallow, but it is also the most important to understand and never forget. First and foremost, conventional medicine is a business! As such, profit, not people, often reigns supreme. Shortly after Ms. Jolie made her announcement, stock in the medical technology company Myriad Genetics climbed significantly. This company owns patents on BRCA 1 and 2 genes for both men and woman, and has repeatedly blocked necessary and unbiased testing to determine the validity of BRCA-breast cancer connection claims.
It is estimated that there have been approximately 1.3 million women in the US who have been over-diagnosed and over-treated for apparent “breast cancer” over the last three decades. How many millions of dollars have pharmaceutical companies and the medical industry in general made during that time? Firstly on “preventative” therapies and treatments, including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. And secondly on breast reconstruction materials and procedures after the fact, some of which has been proven to cause cancer themselves! How many breasts, and how many lives, could have been saved over the last 30 years?
Epigenetic studies have proven time and time again that gene expression can be turned off and on by proper nutrition and the lessening of the toxic load. The hard science is in and the evidence is overwhelming. Ms. Jolie, I respect your personal decision to do what you felt was right for your own body. I only wished that you would have gotten all of the facts about BRCA 1 and 2, and about breast cancer in general, before you promoted this course of action to the hundreds of thousands of women worldwide who look up to you as a role model and may follow your lead.
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Has anyone seen different magazines on the store shelves telling us how Diabetes can be reversed.
How many of us just walk right past those and never stop to check them out.
One day I did. It was after I had a jolt in a Doctor’s office. I also checked out as much as I could about health at the Library and read, read, and read some more. In the process I learned how Diabetes can be reversed and also how cancer and heart disease can be reversed.
It’s funny what you are told. This is such and such BUT it is NOT Diabetes. – So I wondered what it would take for it to become Diabetes. Or: it is NOT Cancer.
So I read up on “such and such” and found out that if it wasn’t stopped in its tracks RIGHT NOW, it would spread to all the organs in my body! Sounds like cancer to me.
I cleaned out my pantry. No msg in there at all. No flour, sugar, or white rice.
My ‘such and such’ (which by the way is something I could watch as it was on my skin but not Melanoma) slowly disappeared and hasn’t come back. That was 6 years ago.
Many other things disappeared, also, like heartburn. Imagine that! A spoonful of cinnamon and honey on oatmeal was replacement for Prilosec!
My vision cleared up. I quit throwing up day and night, especially at night. I sleep better.
ALL BECAUSE I LISTENED TO THESE “QUACKS”.
All I can say to the doubters is stay sick if you want. If you don’t take care of yourselves with the gifts God gave us all, you will probably die a rather painful death. I’ve seen both, the easier more gentle deaths to the hardest kick you in the gut deaths.
“My people perish for lack of knowledge.”
Remember that there are always trolls representing vested interests whether nuclear, pharma, medical industrial, big AG. etc. Is it surprising that cures that are found to be successful in other countries are banned in the US! To wit: Aids cure in Stuttgart Germany by just boiling blood, bitter kernel apricot trees illegal to grow in US, AMA wanting to put Vitamin C on a prescription only basis, 5% iodine used for years currently reduce to only 2% strength sold, Iodine taken out of Morton salt, bromide put in bread (iodine taken out), the list goes on and on…
Now this gene baloney…does anyone know if they eat healthy, exercise regularly and still get cancer are maybe living near a nuclear dump, nuclear plant, cell tower or even drinking sewer treated drinking water. Anyone with half a brain can look at statics and figure out regardless of inherited genes that if only 3 in 100 got cancer in the early 1900s, then why is it currently predicted that 1 in 3 women, 1 in 2 men are going to have cancer. Did all the genes go wild at once!!!
Lynne Garwood says
I understand the frustration Idelle but I would not and I don’t think any functional nutritional doctor would state that a vegan diet is anywhere near eating perfectly. Infact most would state catagorically that it is possibly dangerous and definitely not optimum. To add exercise to this possibly nutrient deficient person could also be totally wrong depending on the type of exercise. If the exercise means jogging or going to the gym using a conveyor belt then again healthy exercise is not always as healthy as believed dependent on how well the body is nourished and the type of exercise. Bring into the picture the microbiome and epigenetics and it seems to me the medical system knows very little. In fact following the conclusion of the Human Genome in 2007 scientists revealed that we humans know far less than we know. The Human has around the same number of genes as an earthworm and so confounding all known knowledge at that time. We now know less than a decade later that our microbiome, the genes of our microbial life that live within us symbiotically outnumber our human genes 100/200:1 if not 1000:1. That these genes influence our function and even our thoughts attitude and behaviour as well as our healthy or not so healthy function. That these genes change as as the microbes change. When we eat we are feeding this microbial life. Eat what the bad guys like to feed on and you end up with colonies of microbes whose genetic influence is not so conducive to your health even without the influence of the physical toxins created. Scientists now know that our human genes and the far more influential genes of the microbiata (that we are nurturing for good or bad)are constantly being switched on and off. A gene is a blueprint that is all, a defective gene: albeit a badly designed blueprint but a blueprint non the less that never needs to be used/switched on. This is good news, it means that we are not slaves to those human genes that we have inherited and it puts a little more control back in our hands. We are however at the burgeoning stage of what there is to learn and should be truly humble and look to the mess that human beings have already created in our arrogance for progress and money over the last 50 yrs. Crop production the demineralisation of our soils, the methods of raising our livestock and the use of hormones and antibiotics to create ever larger production, GMO’s, the incessant use of insecticide and herbicides creating disfunction of our metabolic pathways, processed food production, all having an effect on our microbiome- it’s a nightmare and that’s just our food production. Glyphosate (Roundup weedkiller) that covers our crops liberally and if you don;t have a box in your cupboard to treat the patio and lawn your neighbour will have, has been found in breast milk in countries that have even banned it’s use! How because the animals fed the weedkiller sprayed crops have a microbiomes too and those gut bacteria are processing the glyphosate and you are then eating it. And vegetarians and vegans well we all eat the same glyphosate unless everything eaten is organic and not contaminated. I believe that stating that inheriting a malfunctioning gene is the likely cause of breast cancer is probably being niaive and any operation will be a knock to the immune system and microbiata – the drugs/anaesthetics involved will totally wipe out a healthy microbiata and leave it unbalanced (as so will any medication, birth control pill etc the list is endless) We need to think of and nurture the microbial life that is part of who we are and not worry about our human genes. Science has recently shown us a brief tiny glimpse of what there is to learn and how we have erred.
too bad she has been used by and co-opted by the dark side.
My genetic BRCA1 mutation traces back to the 1400’s from London England. There are over 1300 BRCA 1 mutations. Mine is IVS5-11T>G. The same one as Angelina Jolie. I was told not to worry about the “test that my sister had done” when I had a clear mammogram at 38 and to come back for my mammogram at 40. I excercised every week, ate “healthy” and when I returned I had two large tumors and stage 3 breast cancer. The last two years I have fought to survive, endured 6 surgeries including double mastectomy, 16 rounds of chemo, 30 rounds of radiation.
Please don’t talk about something you have no idea of.
I actually have found out through 23andme that I have a BRCA1 mutation, which I assume is passed down through my father’s line because his mother got breast cancer is her 40’s, and her mother died very young (which I never have gotten the full story). My mother got breast cancer in her 60’s. I have PCOS, so I’m already at risk of hormone induced cancers. My OBGYN and MD all said I shouldn’t get the BRCA test because my immediate relatives had cancer later in life. Now I am all into holistic health care and used to be a massage therapist, but now I’m also a nurse work in the hospital. I know things have gotten corporate, but I also know that the conspiracy of getting money for cancer is just not true. I used to work with oncologists, and they really try to help their patients so much that sometimes they don’t realize it is time for hospice care. That being said, this article just rubbed me the wrong way. I plan on seeing my MD and talking to her about this and getting genetic counseling, and go from there. I don’t want a life worrying about getting cancer, then having to go through chemo and radiation. The quality of life suffers, and I’m sorry you had to experience this. It is liberating for women now to take charge of their health and make decisions for preventative care so they and their loved ones can enjoy their life without this worry. ~Ruth
Sherry, I have the same mutation. How do you know it has been traced back to 1400s London England?
My wife (50) and her cousin have the BRCA gene. she had an oophorectomy (recommended to normalize the risk of ovarian cancer). Her right fallopian tube came back with cancer (surgeon was surprised-as were we). We are working on getting a mastectomy on her breasts and in the exam they found a new (large) lump. we are expecting that to be cancerous and will likely deal with that in the coming weeks. Her cousin (47) has also had cancer in one fallopian tube and has breast cancer and many rounds of chimo.
The problem i have with the medical system is that its reactive and not proactive. These doctors are making very dangerous stories based on not near enough information and only the people that get sick.There are so many opinions ALL based on insufficient and misinformation. The medical system is based on statistics that are based on only sick people. You get cancer then they test for the gene. We are fortunate that we found out this gene in my wife’s family tree. Much more work needs to be done to understand BRCA so the system can change to be proactive. You will have to pay for gene testing unless a direct family member is tested positive for BRCA. Even though My wife’s mother died (59) of ovarian cancer (before genetic testing was available) my wife would have had to pay until her cousin tested positive.
Based on the stats based on people with Cancer and BRCA, the risk of Ovarian and breast Cancer is more than double that of the normal population, with an oophorectomy and mastectomy your chances are reduced to be the same as the rest of the population.
If you believe that a vegan/budwig/macdougall/etc diet will save you try googling “cancer vegan/budwig/macdougall almost killed me”. If you dig into any of these products, doctors, specialists you will see they are selling something. while I wholeheartedly agree a healthy diet is an important key i really hope the system evolves to genetic testing so we can track the results. Hey, how many people with BRCA die at 90 of natural causes?
Good luck on getting the answers you seek based on the ignorance and lack of viable information available. BRCA may be a death sentence for my wife but I am relieved to know that what we have learned will save our children and grandchildrens lives, knowledge is power. Everything else is (respectfully) noise and BS.
You really need to look up Nutrigenomics, and how specific people polymorphisms, need to support their own unique genetic makeup in order to keep disease genes turned off, through your own unique needs that each body needs. All diets wont work for each person. Our own genes are unique. Get your genes tested find out the other polymorphisms you have because you don’t just have one. Learn about methylation pathways, etc and work with someone who can analyse. Dr Amy Yasko’s Work. Dr. Ben Lynch etc.
Riva Bain says
My grandfather died of breast cancer, my mother just had surgery for breast cancer and after surgery and radiation was given a clean bill of health 6 months ago. She was tested and positive for both the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations and just told the cancer is back and that it is growing quite aggressively. She is just about to undergo a double mastectomy and chemo. Although your article is informative, I find it to be quite irresponsible to call out Angelina Jolie as not having her facts straight and calling out big pharma and the medical industry as money hungry fear mongers. I will be tested this month and at 37 if I test positive I will make the choice to have the preventative surgery. If it even reduces my odds of developing cancer by a minimal percentage that is good enough for me. I watched my grandfathers body ravaged by cancer and him waste away to nothing. I’ve been by my mothers side through this whole journey and have seen one of the strongest women I know have her strength dwindle and her body weaken to a shell of who she used to be. As a mother myself I want to make sure I am there for my children for as much time as I can possibly be with them. To guide them and help them grow into the best human beings they can be. My breasts, ovaries, and Fallopian tubes are a small price to pay to make sure my children don’t have to see what I’ve seen over the past 15 years with several of my family members die horribly painful and possibly preventable deaths from cancer. Angelina Jolie is a hero in my eyes, whether her facts were 100% accurate, she has saved lives by going public with this.
Peter Tomkinson says
The simple fact is we are not determined just from our human genes alone. To focus only on a genetic history, familial and personal, is to ignore everything else that can be a factor. It is also a simple fact that we live today in a very different environment from that that existed for most of human development, and without doubt it is a far more toxic environment than our predecessors experienced. Immediately after Angelina Jolie made her public announcement a California doctor questioned the statistics quoted and suggested the risk was more like 50/50. I am not able to evaluate either Ms Jolie’s or this doctors numbers but I do know that there are lies, dang lies and then there are statistics.
Everyone must make their own life and health decisions based upon the best information they can acquire, obviously. When money is involved then we must take great care to question and double check and triple check. Money corrupts at all levels. Then if necessary do the whole checking process all again – no matter who it is that says whatever and what it is that we are being urged to believe, or do. Same applies to reputations, prestige and egos. My health over rides all other factors and considerations.
Never ever, ever believe that governments and the institutions they create and control care about you -history proves everytime that they do not. These are made up of only people after all and doing what is in their best interest and while we all hope it may be in the best interest of the broader community it can only be a hope, not an expectation. People will ensure the institution survives above that of it stated purpose.
Your health is yours and yours alone to care for. Do your homework and do it thoroughly as it is your life you are playing with. We fool ourselves if we believe what is not true. We fool ourselves even more when we refuse to believe what is true (Soren Kierkegaard).
My family carries BRACA2. My mother tested negative. My ex-husband’s family has a strong h/o breast cancer, all in early 30’s. I have a daughter & had her tested for BRACA 1 & BRACA 2, both negative!
The following year, my ex-husband develops brain cancer. I knew there had to be a genetic connection…there was!! ALWAYS go with your gut instinct! Has anyone ever heard of TP53 mutation? Well, my ex-husband carries this gene mutation. There is 50/50 chance to pass onto children & does not skip generation! My children( daughter & son), were genetically tested at U OF PENN. My son is negative & my daughter is positive! It’s the second most common form of breast cancer & we NEVER hear of it!! This gene mutation starts early with breast cancer! My daughter has just gone through breast, brain & full body MRI’s. She will require a Prophylactic mastectomy before age 30. EVERY female on my ex-husbands side of the family have all died from breast cancer!! I thank God everyday that we found this out….KNOWLEDGE IS POWER!! My sister-in-law opted for this surgery at 30. She did not know at the time that she also carried this gene mutation. But, she had a strong feeling she would develop breast cancer!! She is the only living female past 40! She is now 53!
I have a quite alarming history of breast and ovarian cancer in my family. It’s all on my dad’s side and his mom died at 33 from it… the rest are cousins since he was the only child and his mom the only girl. I finally got tested and am BRCA1 positive. Had the bilateral salpingo oopherecromy (tubes and ovaries removed) and have a profilactic double mastectomy with reconstruction in two months. What my doctors have told me is that watching a patient with screenings va having this second surgery doesn’t usually change how long they live, but it changes the quality of life. You start going to get a mammogram and an MRI every six months , worrying if today is the day when you will have cancer ? It sucks. Having the profilactic surgeries is the only way to prevent cancer. Once you get it, it can spread and then you are a cancer patient. I want to be here for my husband and kids and grandkids and just LIFE in general. Don’t knock Angie and her decision. I am so grateful to her for making it “ok” to take care of yourself and not wait for the ball to drop. Ladies this is your body, your life, don’t give it away.
PS I’m 40 and grateful I got to this point healthy!!!
It’s easy to have such a strong opinion until both BRCA 2 and cancer impact your family in big ways. I used to be very anti conventional medicine. So was my aunt. She ignored the lump in her breast and knowing that it was most likely cancer she sought out a natural approach. She steadily got worse and finally the naturopath recommended she see a breast specialist. By that time she was stage 4 metastatic (it had spread to her bones). She fought for a year but it spread to her liver and ovaries and her body just couldn’t fight anymore. Had she known about the BRCA mutation sooner we may have caught the cancer soon enough to save her life. But we didn’t and so we experienced the horrific impact of this disease and mutation. I’m 35, I have two beautiful girls, and am BRCA 2+ with a strong family history of breast and ovarian cancer. I have a lot to live for. I don’t like thinking about the possibility of having my breast and ovaries removed but being here for my daughter’s is way more important. We have to stop this mentality that it’s either conventional medicine or natural medicine. We need a functional approach because it takes both.
This evening, I watched a program where a young woman decided to have both her breasts removed after finding out that she had this BRCA gene. She had breast reconstruction that turned into a nightmare in itself. It’s hard for me to understand the mentality of our medicals system. If it isn’t broken don’t fix it! But they seem to focus on the negative and move patients to make devastating decisions based on fear. How is this serving the best interest of their patients? There are thousands of environmental, social and dietary issues that contribute to the spread of Cancer and other deadly diseases. Genetics seems to be just another tool that this medical system is using to squeeze more $$$$$ out of insurance companies at the expense of trusting patients health.
To assume that a person with a BRCA mutation didn’t already consider all of what was written above in your article before taking major step such a surgery is asinine of you. Removing ones breast, ovaries, Etc, as a woman is not an easy thing to come to terms with and isn’t taken lightly. This is something that I actually have to live with as well as another genetic mutation as well, lynch syndrome. It’s rare enough to have one even more rare for me to have both I’ve never met someone else with both mutations that I have. For you to act like people with these mutations are overreacting or not considering all of the risks and side effects and having the facts is extremely insulting to people who actually suffer with this. I’m not denying that there has not been enough research done in genetic mutations, but part of the reason that there have not been very many studies conducted at this point is because number one genetic mutations and the link to cancer are relatively new and number two most people who find out they have a genetic mutation have already gone through and battled cancer, many times they have already been part of many different studies and are worn out and don’t want to go through another study after the fact of beating their cancer. I’m not saying that there’s not corruption within Industries and I’m not saying that you shouldn’t try to lead a healthier lifestyle but for many people even with these healthier lifestyles they still would get cancer and very possibly die because of the mutation. They cannot track at this point which specific deletions lead to a higher risk of cancer because of things like family history and so many other variables it is something that they are trying to do that has been the intent of what they’ve wanted to do since finding out that the mutations lead to cancer but that’s easier said than done. Presonal Family history plays a big role in it as well and that’s a part that you conveniently leave out which unfortunately could lead to women making a wrong choice and eventually getting cancer. It shouldn’t be about saving the tatas at this point it should be about saving the woman. I feel that this article should be Rewritten but that’s just my opinion.
Donna Semega says
My 75 year old sister was just diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I have female organs never gave birth and am 76. No cancer so far, get mammograms yearly just had a PAP test. Am I in danger?
Simply because BRCA 1 2 is present IS IN O WAY PROOF THAT IT CAUSED THE CANCER. it simply could be a Bystander on the scene folks. Show me a study showing absolute CAUSE OF any type of cancer please????
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