Breast Cancer Prevention: The Choice is Yours

By Andrea Riggs Fitness & Health Editor | 5/31/2013, noon
The news of the Oscar-winning actress Angelina Jolie’s difficult decision to undergo double breast surgery earlier this year, raises awareness ...
Angelina Jolie

The news of the Oscar-winning actress Angelina Jolie’s difficult decision to undergo double breast surgery earlier this year, raises awareness for women to pay close attention to their own breast health and the rare BRCA1/2 genes that put women at greater risk for developing the disease. 

The Jolie message is clear: women with a family history of breast and ovarian cancer must take proactive steps and access vital medical information for lifesaving preventative treatments. 

And with breast cancer taking the lives of more than 458,000 women and men each year in the U.S., Jolie’s courageous choice to share her story is inspiring millions to be more focused on the aspects of personal health that are predictable and controllable.

She knew undergoing gene testing early could save her life.

After doctors discovered that Jolie had the rare BRCA1 gene mutation, found in 2% of breast patients, she knew her risk of developing breast cancer soared to an astounding 87 percent and 50 percent for ovarian cancer. 

And because her mother died of ovarian cancer at the age of 56, Jolie weighed her medical options and decided to “take control,” to better ensure she’d be around for her family. 

She candidly writes, “Once I knew that this was my reality, I decided to be proactive and to minimize the risk as much I could. I made a decision to have a preventive double mastectomy…I can tell my children that they don’t need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer.”

Jolie’s action sheds light on the very expensive BRCA test for gene mutations.  The cost of testing for the BRCA1/2 gene is more than $3,000 in the United States. That’s a financial obstacle many ordinary people can’t overcome.

But gene inheritance and budgetary concerns can’t be barriers to leading healthy lifestyles. We can help our bodies ward off illness by virtue of altering what we eat, how much we eat, how much we sleep, how physically active we are, how we manage stress and the supportive relationships we have in our lives. 

And we can start by just examining family health history, setting better health goals and taking part in annual screenings and self-checks. You can’t wait until something is wrong to make positive health choices.

Much like Jolie, breast cancer survivor and nutrition expert, Tracey Baaset, found herself fighting for her life at an early age.  After ignoring a lump she felt in her breast for a short time, despite a family history of breast cancer (grandmother), Tracey was eventually diagnosed with breast cancer and started several rounds of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. 

Faced with a dire prognosis, with the future caretaking of her children as an added concern, Baaset undertook an exploration of options; focusing on super foods to supplement her medical treatments.

“I took the fruits and greens that God put on this earth for our health and strength,”  Baaset said. “You just take control of your own well-being and you can cut it (your breast) off and deal with the negative side effects, pain and lack of energy, with the right support.”