Do mastectomies prevent breast cancer?

Men who have the BRCA mutation are at risk for breast cancer, pancreatic  cancer, testicular cancer and prostate cancer, but there is almost no discussion of men prophylactically cutting body parts out.

Men who have the BRCA mutation are at risk for breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, testicular cancer and prostate cancer, but there is almost no discussion of men prophylactically cutting body parts out.

by Mary Budinger — 

It is almost fashionable now in Hollywood to preempt a possible diagnosis of breast cancer in the future with a radical mastectomy — prophylactic removal of both breasts. Does it work? The scientific data do not match the hype.

A tiny percentage of American men and women are thought to carry the BRCA gene mutation. Women with it are at greater risk, statistically, of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer. Men with the BRCA mutation are at greater risk, statistically, of developing cancers of the breast, pancreas, testicles and prostate.

Everyone has BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. They are tumor-suppressing genes that ensure stability of DNA. The mutated form interferes with the body’s ability to repair radiation-induced DNA damage. But if you have “bad” BRCA genes, you should not jump to the conclusion that you will develop cancer.

Many of us have a “bad” gene. The key is whether it will express. This is where the science of epigenetics — environmental and lifestyle forces that impact how our genes express themselves — comes into play. It came into focus after the mapping of the human genome. It was discovered, to the surprise of many, that humans have about as many genes as the fruit fly.

We have the power to alter our genetic deck of cards in many ways. With obesity, for instance, genetic research shows that the habits you inherit from your family are more important than the genes you inherit. Genes are thought to account for only 5 percent of all weight problems. Studies of identical twins in which one developed diabetes and the other did not revealed that diet and lifestyle made the difference.

Epigenetic factors account for as much as 95 percent of what determines any disease risk. Our genetic inheritance does not dictate predisposed illnesses, except in rare cases like Huntington’s disease. So whether the BRCA gene mutation would actually result in breast cancer is less a matter of the 87 percent statistic bandied about than it is a matter of cause and effect.

The BRCA mutation is not a death sentence. When scientists looked at the mutated BRCA genes, they found thousands of additional mutations in them, and some of those mutations actually reduce the risk of breast cancer. Hence, some researchers are recommending women do not submit to BRCA testing.

An Italian study found that women with the BRCA2 mutation have about the same rate of death from cancer as those who do not have the gene.

The preemptive surgical solution to the BRCA concern is typically aimed just at breasts, even though this gene mutation puts a woman at risk for ovarian cancer as well. Men who have the BRCA mutation are at risk for breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, testicular cancer and prostate cancer, but there is almost no discussion of men prophylactically cutting body parts out.

Because not all at-risk tissue can be removed by a mastectomy, some women who opted for prophylactic surgery have subsequently developed breast cancer, ovarian cancer or primary peritoneal carcinomatosis (a type of cancer similar to ovarian cancer) after surgery.

Women who undergo prophylactic mastectomies often opt for reconstructive breast implants, which themselves have been linked to cancer and autoimmune diseases.

If you think you have a predisposition to breast cancer, you can do a lot to empower a good epigenetic outcome. First, avoid mammograms, X-rays and other medical screenings that expose you to a dose of carcinogenic radiation. Thermography is a better choice for routine breast screening.

You can download an excellent explanation of environmental carcinogens entitled “State of the Evidence” at BreastCancerFund.org. It is free.

People with BRCA mutations would be wise to make cruciferous vegetables a bigger part of their diet. Research shows that their naturally high content of cruciferous indole-3-carbinol (I3C) reduces the activity of dangerous estrogen metabolites. Cruciferous veggies include cabbage, bok choy, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, radishes, rutabaga, turnips and watercress. You also can buy I3C as a potent nutritional supplement.

Vitamin D3 is known to have strong anti-cancer properties. Research suggests that being deficient in the “sunshine vitamin” is like hanging out the welcome sign for cancer.

The book, The Naked Truth About Breast Implants: From Harm to Healing, by Susan Kolb, M.D., details breast implant risks, associated illnesses and what to do about them.

Many women carry the BRCA gene mutation and never express breast cancer or ovarian cancer because they lead healthy, anti-cancer lifestyles based on smart nutrition, exercise, sensible sun exposure and avoidance of cancer-causing chemicals.

Sources

• Lin C, Sasaki T, et al. The case against BRCA 1 and 2 testing. Surgery. 2011 Jun;149(6):731-4. PMID: 21621683.

• Budroni M, Cesaraccio R, et al. Role of BRCA2 mutation status on overall survival among breast cancer patients from Sardinia. BMC Cancer. 2009;9:62.

• www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/BRCA.

• UCLA. Breast implants and breast cancer: a review of incidence, detection, mortality and survival. Plast Reconstr Surg. 2007 Dec;120(7 Suppl 1):70S-80S.

 

Mary Budinger is an Emmy award-winning journalist who writes about integrative medicine. 602-494-1999.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 32, Number 3, June/July 2013.

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