Friday, October 25, 2013

Fear of cancer

A by product of raising cancer awareness can be increasing people's fear of getting the disease. I think that often in the back of people's minds as they donate or pinkify in someways is "I really hope I don't get it". With Angelina Jolie's decision to have a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy because of the BRCA gene and the ensuing publicity, more and more women are concerned about their risk of getting breast cancer.

While breast cancer eventually impacts one in eight women by the age of 80, it is much less common in younger women. Most cancers are also discovered at the early treatable stages.

The BRCA gene, which Ms. Jolie has, is only responsible for about 5-10% of breast cancers. If you have relatives who died of ovarian or breast cancer at a young age, you probably should speak to your doctor about being tested for its presence.

If you do have the gene or have a strong family history of breast cancer there are still options available to you instead of a bilateral mastectomy. You can take Tamoxifen. You can skip surgery and medicine and opt for an aggressive screening schedule - particularly if you have not yet had children and plan to do so.

You can still get breast cancer even if you don't have any risk factors (I didn't) at a young age (mid-40s) - anything under 50 is considered young for breast cancer. You can eat right, get exercise, blah, blah, blah.

There is no reason to fear breast cancer or any other cancer or medical ailment. If you spend your life in fear of getting sick, you are not living, you are hiding.

My body is in such bad shape right now. My doctors are amazed at the amount of osteoarthritis I have in my knees and I tell them I worked hard for many years to get into this shape - snap, crackle, and pop every time I bend my left knee from years of skating, skiing, roller blading, hiking, and much  more. I had fun for a long time. Now I still have fun and don't hide from what might happen but I just move at a slower pace.

1 comment:

Linda said...

Thanks for your discussion of BRCA mutations, as part of the issue of cancer risk and fear. I am BRCA+ as is my mother. As far as when to think about being tested, nowadays any single case of ovarian cancer (at any age) is sufficient to make that person a candidate for genetic testing. Genetic counselors are great at helping to figure out who in a family should (or shouldn't) be tested.

And thanks for the recognition that not all folks with a BRCA mutation must have a prophylactic mastectomy -- enhanced surveillance (mammogram and MRI, each yearly) and possible chemoprevention like Tamoxifen are medically approved options as well, chosen by many women.