Angelina Jolie

The Message

Angelina Jolie's Message

Angelina Jolie's Message

On May 14 of 2013 we woke to the shocking news that a young woman, an actress graced with most exceptional beauty and fame, and a mother of six, had decided to remove her breasts. Angelina Jolie has fearlessly traveled to places most of us would never go. As a humanitarian, she has put herself in harms-way numerous times by visiting dangerous and war-torn countries. As a woman, she has now revealed she has completed another journey that none of us would embrace.

Ms. Jolie’s mother died of ovarian cancer at age 56 after fighting for her life for a heroic decade. Angelina decided to be tested for the BRCA genes—the most influential genes— that if abnormal, indicate a very high risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. Her tests came back positive. The doctors told her that her risk of developing breast cancer was 87 percent— a number too high for her to ignore. She explained her decision this way: she didn't want her children to lose their mother too early, as she had lost hers.

Breast reconstruction — a procedure that Angie chose — can restore a woman to wholeness and often has beautiful results. I applaud her for her bravery. But as a former plastic surgeon, now an expert in breast cancer prevention and natural health, and the woman who spearheaded legislation to make it mandatory for insurance companies to pay for breast reconstruction following mastectomy, I have a more expanded message.

After my mother’s death of breast cancer in 2004, I dove into the medical literature—the collection of medical research—to see what, if anything, women could do to lower their risk. I instantly found thousands of studies that showed exactly why we have a breast cancer epidemic: everything we are doing to contribute to it and everything that we traditionally don’t do in this culture that is highly protective. The answers were all “natural.” For example foods, dietary supplements, lifestyle choices, including how much you exercise, the hours that you sleep, relationships, and how we handle stress, all have a profound influence on our risk. Research shows that if we adopt as many of the healthy habits as possible, risk—even if one has the BRCA gene mutations—can be lowered by at least 50-70 percent.

My message is this: each woman has tremendous power to influence her health. A healthy diet and lifestyle not only significantly lowers risk of breast cancer, but of most chronic diseases. Most women do not have the BRCA gene mutations—in fact, 99 percent of us do not. If one carries the BRCA genes and is at a higher risk, she owes it to herself to question the dire statistics her doctor states. Those numbers are based on women who received no education about what to avoid and what to favor. Research confirms that a few simple changes can have profound results.

Jolie’s Choice Not the Only Option

The National Institutes of Health says that several options are available for managing cancer risk in individuals who have a harmful BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation—while also stating that, “high-quality data on the effectiveness of these options are limited.”

Option #1
Surveillance means cancer screening, or a way of detecting the disease earlier on. Screening does not, however, change the risk of developing cancer. The goal is to find cancer early when it may be most treatable. Surveillance methods for breast cancer may include mammography and clinical breast exams, thermography and magnetic resonance imaging. With careful surveillance, many breast cancers that are diagnosed early have been successfully treated. Options besides mammography should be discussed with a physician. Some, like thermography or MRIs, have limited value or specific indications.

Option #2
Prophylactic surgery involves removing as much of the “at-risk” tissue as possible in order to reduce the chance of developing cancer. Because not all at-risk tissue can be removed by these procedures, some women have developed breast cancer even after surgery.

Option #3
Risk avoidance could well be important, but data are limited. Certain behaviors are associated with breast cancer risk in the general population. Avoiding hazards such as chemicals known to cause cancer makes sense.

Angelina Jolie Message HEALTHY LIVING MAGAZINE

Angelina Jolie Message HEALTHY LIVING MAGAZINE

Option #4
Chemoprevention is the use of natural or synthetic substances to reduce the risk of developing cancer or to reduce the chance that cancer will come back. Tamoxifen has been shown in numerous clinical studies to reduce developing breast cancer occurrence by about 50 percent in women at higher than normal risk. Another drug, raloxifene, is thought to be similar in effect. No studies have evaluated the effectiveness of tamoxifen in women with BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations, or weighed their risks with benefits. Natural foods such as the crucifers, flax and other rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids, are known to exert a positive and no negative bio-similar effect.

Christine Horner, MD, is a board certified and nationally recognized surgeon and author of the book, Waking the Warrior Goddess: Dr. Christine Horner’s Program to Protect Against and Fight Breast Cancer.
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