Yes, Angelina, There is a Cancer Cause. And it’s Not Your Genes.

Yes, Angelina, there is a Cancer Cause… and it’s not your genes.

 

According to the National Cancer Institute the estimated risk of cancer from having a ‘faulty’ BRCA gene is likely to be inaccurate due to the way in which the studies were performed.

The studies were on families with many individuals affected by a variety of cancer types, not just breast cancer. So the current hypothesis of increased risk could be due to other genetic factors, environmental factors or a combination of both.

 

Choosing to have one’s breasts removed to “prevent” cancer ignores the fact that cancer is a systemic disorder.

I’m not criticizing Angelina’s choice for herself. What scares me is that the media are holding her up as a role model.

Are Genes to Blame?

The BRCA genes that are getting the press also carry an increased risk of cervical, uterine, pancreas, gallbladder and colon cancer, as well as melanoma. Will women that are at high risk be having all those organs removed?

H. Gilbert Welch wisely points out on CNN that , “This story is not relevant to more than 99% of American women.  Why? Because more than 99% of women do not have BRCA1 — or BRCA2, for that matter.”

What about encouraging women to focus on the factors they CAN control, without signing up for a test that has a $3,000 price tag, and surgery (that may not be covered by insurance in the absence of disease) and months or years of counseling, rehabilitation and risk of post-operative side effects.

If the answer to increased risk for breast cancer is surgery what is the answer to a genetic risk for Alzheimer’s? or depression?

Epigenetics is the study of what causes a gene to be expressed. We know that not every woman that has a faulty BRCA gene gets breast cancer. Why doesn’t she?

Risk Factors that You Can Control

Lifestyle factors like constipation, alcohol consumption and diet play a critical role in one’s risk of cancer. As does the use of birth control pills and other synthetic hormones. Recent research highlights the importance of the gut biome in strengthening the immune system to reduce cancer risk.

Addressing these factors, while it makes for much less dramatic headlines, is truly courageous and results is overall better health and well-being instead of multiple surgeries.

Isn’t Prevention where we should put our focus?

Cancer is a systemic disorder. Removing the breast does not remove the risk of cancer. The genetic variation Angelina has also has a risk of pancreas, ovary, gallbladder, colon cancer and melanoma. While it would be possible to live without many of those organs, the skin is not one of them.

We don’t know what effect surgery has on the long term cancer risk – it’s possible that removing one of the affected organs actually increases the risk of cancer in another affected organ.

According to the National Cancer Institute, and based on the thousands of scientific studies whose hypotheses changed with the addition of new data, we can assume that the current estimates of a woman’s risk of breast cancer from having faulty BRCA genes will change.

While we’re waiting for reliable data let’s promote interventions that promote wholeness and healing as primary interventions.

I respect Angelina’s choice. But let’s look at for what it is – a radical choice made a woman with a long history of risky, unconventional, radical decisions. Let’s not hold that up as a standard of care.

2 Comments

  • Christine

    Reply Reply May 20, 2013

    Love this article, Dr. Rose. I completely agree.

  • Hannah

    Reply Reply July 24, 2013

    It makes sense that removing one of the possibly affected organs would increase the risk for the other possibly affected organs. I’m glad to read an article from a different point of view than all the publicity calling her brave and a good role model.

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