A Blood Test for Breast Cancer Risk Led Jolie to Remove Her Breasts—Should You?

Last month, Angelina Jolie chose to announce to the world that she had undergone a double mastectomy and reconstruction to decrease her risk of breast cancer. Jolie had a family history of breast cancer, which led her to undergo a blood test for breast cancer risk that looks for genetic markers believed to indicate high risk.

Her doctors found that she had a mutation of the BRCA1 gene, and estimated her chance of getting breast cancer at 87 percent. 

As Jolie explained in the opinion pages of the New York Times, her mother died from breast cancer at the age of 56 after a decade of fighting the disease. She didn’t want her children to lose her the same way. 

From Blood Tests for Breast Cancer to Removal

Jolie, research shows, isn’t the only one opting to remove her breasts rather than take the risk.

Peggy Orenstein reported in New York Times Magazine results from a study in The Journal of Clinical Oncology: from 1998 to 2005 there has been a 188% jump among women given a diagnoses of D.C.I.S.—also known as “Stage Zero”—in just one breast who choose to have both breasts removed just in case.

D.C.I.S., which stands for ductal carcinoma in situ, means that there are abnormal cells found in the lining of the milk-producing ducts within the breast.

Unfortunately, there is no way to tell if those abnormal cells will turn into invasive cancer, so every case is treated as potentially life threatening.

One of the researchers Orenstein interviewed, Laura Esserman, likened this to performing heart surgery on everyone diagnosed with high cholesterol. Esserman is the director of the Carol Franc Buck Breast Cancer Care Center at the University of California, San Francisco. She says D.C.I.S. isn’t actually cancer; it’s a risk factor.

And its chances of developing into cancer are 5% over 10 years, very similar to the chances of high cholesterol requiring heart surgery.

Testing vs. Prevention?

So, should you get the blood test for breast cancer to determine your own risk factor? That’s between you and your doctor; but whatever you decide be sure to evaluate all the potential costs.

Research has shown that while testing does lead to an earlier diagnosis of breast cancer, early diagnosis hasn’t necessarily led to better long-term survival rates.

In addition, much of the money donated to breast cancer charities continues to go toward awareness. But women are now well “aware” of breast cancer.

So, where should funds be focused instead?  Many experts suggest prevention and to focus on leading a healthy lifestyle, taking preventative supplements to strengthen your body’s own natural defense mechanisms to lower your risk of cancer.

Tips For Avoiding Breast Cancer That Are Better Than a Blood Test for Breast Cancer, From Christine Horner, M.D.

In particular, Dr. Christine Horner, a leading expert on breast cancer prevention in the U.S., says that most women who are diagnosed with breast cancer do not have the BRCA gene mutation and most—90-95%—do not carry the BRCA genes.  She also states that being tested too early could involve other health risks and potential insurance coverage difficulties.

Instead she recommends scientifically proven, non-invasive techniques that can significantly lower the risk of breast cancer (even if you have the BRCA gene mutation).

What are her suggestions?

  1. Caffeinated coffee: Studies show that coffee can significantly reduce the BRCA gene. 3-5 cups reduce it 10%; 4-5 cups reduce it by 25%; and more than 5 cups reduces it by an astonishing 70%.
  2. Selenium: This mineral is found in the soil and can help prevent tumors from developing by helping to stop damaged DNA molecules from reproducing. Research has shown that supplementing with selenium may reduce the risk of BRCA1 carriers developing cancer by 200% in just 2 years!
  3. AHCC: A derivative from medicinal mushrooms, AHCC remains a leading alternative cancer treatment in hundreds of clinics throughout Asia.  A "nutritional immunotherapy," AHCC has been shown to significantly improve the immune system by increasing the production of the body's "killer cells," whose function is to destroy abnormal cells and invading organisms in the body.
  4. Potent Foods: Dr. Horner includes Soy, Broccoli and Fish in this list.  All three work directly on the BRCA1 gene to lower the risk along with dozens of others anticancer actions. Soy contains genistein, which blocks the estrogen receptor and is a potent antioxidant; Broccoli contains Indole-3-Carbinol (known as 13C), which may alter levels of estrogen in the body, decreasing cancer risk; and Fish contain omega-3 fatty acids, which is a strong anti-inflammatory and can help stop the spread of tumors.
  5. 10 p.m. Bedtime: Several studies have shown that being in bed and asleep by 10pm has a significant effect on your body, allowing it to produce natural antioxidants that prevent cellular damage and DNA damage, which ultimately cause disease.

If you found out you were high risk, what preventative measures would you take? Let us know in the comments.