Oct 19 2011

Prophylactic Breast Action

I bet I get at least one spam comment thanks to the title of this post, but wanted to talk about yet another something most of you ladies may not know about, and since my cancer chattering on this blog has already potentially saved one life, I look for opportunities to do similar things when I can.

For those of you with hereditary breast cancer in your family, we’ve already talked in the past about getting tested for any of the genetic mutations that are likely to cause you to develop breast cancer, often far earlier in life than most people who get cancer do.  BRCA1 (the one I have) and BRCA2 account for only about 5% of all breast cancers, and are easily testable.  If you have a family member who contracted breast or ovarian or uterine cancer before age 40 you might easily be able to convince your insurance to pay for the test; even more likely if a relative has the actual gene.  For those many uninsured, I’ve been told it’s only a few hundred dollars for the test, which is definitely worth it compared to the hundreds of thousands of dollars cancer costs.  They’re also finding more genetic factors besides just these two that contribute to a higher tendency to develop breast cancer at any point along the living way.

I just got correspondence from my mom that I’m sure she won’t mind me sharing a part of here, as examples of what I mean.  She was one of those many women who had lumpy breast texture by nature, and even went in a couple of times to get small lumps checked out (always benign).  I know several of you out there like that; I know others with some of the factors described below, so please take this seriously.  No one, but no one wants to go what I’ve had to go through over the past two years to stay alive thanks to rogue mammary tissue.  It’s not worth it, trust me, especially when there are so many other options.

For those who don’t know, my mother just made the very hard decision to have double mastectomies as a prophylactic measure — meaning she’s not had any cancerous or even pre-cancerous signs show up in her breasts but because she tested positive, as I do, for BRCA1, she decided to remove the biggest source of the danger before any problems showed up.  She requested meticulous testing of the tissue after the fact, to see what might have been hiding in there besides the known genetic flaw.  She picked one of the best surgeons in the Dallas area, and one who has actually organized a group to spread the word about BRCA and other genetic cancers.  She learned that although she has no active cancer cells in either breast, she has “lobular hyperplasia markers” in the right breast and “prolific fiber cystic changes at the cellular level in both breasts”.  Both of these increase your chances of breast cancer by 2-4% each.  That may not sound like much, but a nearly 5-10% increase on top of the 40-85% increase the BRCA mutation gives means that for her it was just a matter of time before something went wrong.  So she feels even better about making the right choice than she did before the surgery.  I hope in a later post to have a more personal account from her, perhaps even interview-style, of the differences in making a decision about prophylactic surgery, which seems to me on some level to be a much harder decision than when something has already gone wrong and there’s already an obvious solution to your problem (surgery or death), like I have had to deal with.

Scrape together, beg, save, or borrow, but if you have any reason to believe you’re a higher-risk person for breast cancer don’t live with that fear, go find out what there is to know, which is more every day thanks to all the help groups and organizations out there.  Don’t put it off with the “well it probably won’t happen to me” excuse; my mother had that as the perfect excuse — making it to her mid-50s with no major scares, breast-feeding two children with no problems as a younger parent.  And then look at her statistics; not very comforting, those.  The BEST she was looking at was someone 46% more likely than the average person to develop breast cancer, and the worst at 93% was practically a guarantee.  Don’t let that be you.  Do your monthly breast checks, sure; but if it runs in your family don’t stop there.  Find a doctor who will work with you to educate you on options, risk factors, and all the other things you can do to take charge of your own health, to live the longest your particular set of genetic factors will let you, rather than playing games of statistics with the universe.  (It tends to cheat.)

One response so far

One Response to “Prophylactic Breast Action”

  1. Bon 20 Oct 2011 at 9:59 am

    So glad you posted this, especially during pink-a-thon month. Your mom is real hero for doing something so “radical” to not just protect herself but also to the benefit of her family. I hope she tells as many people as she can about what she did so that she can be a role model for other women.