Are ‘Breasts’ the New WMD?

“OMG! You have breasts – just like Angelina Jolie! Ergo, you’ll get cancer and die!” – moron internet troll

Of course, that’s not true. But superstar Angelina Jolie’s preventive double mastectomy has sparked a very real debate and a lot of unnecessary alarm. So, what’s all the hoopla about?

Angelina Jolie revealed her medical choice in a NY Times op-ed.
Angelina Jolie revealed her medical choice in a NY Times op-ed (see link)

BRCA Mutation: the Story Breaks

It was on the NY Times. Angelina Jolie was about to remove her breasts and doing it for her children. She would not feel any less of a woman after having her breasts removed. ‘I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity.’

Angelina’s choice was widely hailed as a brave, inspiring choice and the right thing to do. Global media was aflutter with the news and Ms. Jolie’s strong stance.

Others said she was just crying for media attention and making a spectacle of an optional surgery that wasn’t even that risky. Many pointed out that her op-ed piece had failed to mention a couple of vital facts about her faulty BRCA1 genes.

BRCA Facts 

The BRCA mutation is a bad thing. But thankfully, its also very, very rare. The mutation increases the risk of developing breast cancer about five fold.

“This story is not relevant to 99% of (American) women”, says H. Gilbert Welch, professor of medicine and co-author of “Overdiagnosed: Making People Sick in the Pursuit of Health.” Why? Because more than 99% of women do not have the BRCA1 mutation — or the BRCA2 mutation, for that matter.

The Aftermath of Angelina’s Op-Ed

There are corporate conspiracy theories out there now that claim that this was a carefully-coordinated PR campaign: one that will eventually benefit Myriad Genetics that holds the patent for BRCA Testing at $3000 each. Myriad Genetics claims to own the rights to any test for the presence of these two critical genes associated with breast cancer, and it has ruthlessly enforced that right. Intellectual property monopoly or not – their shares have already jumped as more and more women rush in to get tested.

breasts - myriad
Protests against Myriad Genetics’ over-zealous enforcement of patent rights on human genes (photo: slate.com)

There’s no one right choice for a woman in Angelina’s position, but she may well have made the right choice for her. Luckily it is a choice most women don’t have to face. But her iconic status and the public announcement about what has till now remained a private decision – has sparked an important debate. It will move thousands of women to be  more aware and proactive in preventing breast-cancer.

And Angelina isn’t going anywhere either as she has revealed plans to have her ovaries surgically removed too.

See update: ruling in case against Myriad Genetics from June 13, 2013.

Advertisements

One comment

What do you think? Drop a line - and I will too.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s