I awoke this morning to news of Angelina's preventative double mastectomy on Facebook. A good friend from high school, and breast cancer survivor had put up a status about Angelina and her hope this will enable more women to be aware and get tested.
Often times, I am asked about my personal opinion of mammograms due to the radiation exposure. That is a difficult question for me to answer without bias - and I do let my patients know my whole reasoning.
When I was born, my maternal grandmother - "Mema" as all who are close to me would remember her - was first diagnosed with breast cancer. At the time, she chose to have a unilateral mastectomy Sixteen years later, the other side showed signs of cancer and she went in again to have the other breast removed. During those years, I guess I didn't really understand the extreme severity of breast cancer and just assumed Mema would be fine. She was a strong woman and when she passed on at the age of 90, she did not die from cancer but other health conditions.
When I was 28 years old, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. At the time, she found it difficult finding any surgeon to just perform a double mastectomy so she went through a lumpectomy, radiation and some naturopathic support. Within the same year, the other breast showed a questionable mass and my mother was done. She searched through Connecticut until she found a surgeon willing to perform the double mastectomy she had wanted from the beginning. This November will begin my mother's 15th year since her diagnosis, and she is still currently cancer free.
So, my answer to the question about mammograms - yes, I am in favor of mammograms regardless of the radiation exposure. I am all for anything that will help give us a chance to save lives, improve the quality of life or support prevention.
In addition to my personal family history of breast cancer, I also have Ashkenazi Jewish heritage. In doing some reading today, I found these statistics on risk factors for the Ashkenazi population:
*Twenty percent of Ashkenazi Jews who have been diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of 40 have a BRCA1 mutation.
*Twenty-nine percent of Ashkenazi Jews with a family history of two or more breast cancers carry one of these mutations.
*Seventy-three percent of Ashkenazi Jews with a family history that includes two or more cases of breast cancer and at least one case of ovarian cancer carry one of these mutations. (link to article at the bottom of the blog)
Thank Goodness we don't have any history of ovarian cancer in our family!
Even before the Angelina Jolie news hit the media today, my mother had already begun working on getting the BRCA genetic testing done, and if she ends up being positive, I will go in myself and be tested.
As much as I have a concern for my own personal health, I also have a fear for my beautiful daughters' future. I will be tested so that they know early on if they should be tested. I will be tested to maintain my health. If I end up being positive, I will decide at that point what my next step will be.
What is your opinion: Do you get regular mammograms? Would you get tested for the BRCA gene if you had a family history? Would you ever consider getting a preventative masectomy?
I would like to add a special note of love to all the women in my life; Mema, Mom, my friends and patients (you all know who you are) that have shown such strength and courage to battle and continue to overcome breast cancer!