BRCA1: The Gene That Does Not Fit
A young woman re-evaluates her family history and personal health due to Angelina Jolies shocking announcement of undergoing a double mastectomy.
The human body is composed of an estimated 20,000 genius building blocks inherited from both parents to form a new body: your own. The units provide the information that determines the color of your eyes, the texture of your hair, and the overall well-being of your health. These powerful components shaping our bodies are known as genes, which can manifest in good or bad ways. Sporadically, one gene can rebel and go, rogue, mutating into a villain known as Cancer that our body desperately tries to fight off.
Cancer affects millions of lives in various ways, whether it be directly or indirectly. Reflecting on my own life, cancer has avenged itself many times. While my father has cured a plethora of people around the world through his research of oncology and pathology, he himself has been through a few cancer scares, including a stage three colon cancer. However, the case that rattled my life the most was my mother’s unsuccessful battle against stage two breast cancer. Her diagnosis has haunted me ever since, driving myself to question, “Do I have the breast cancer gene?”
The breast cancer gene is formally known as BRCA1 – a tumor suppressor gene whose mutation leads to hereditary breast cancer. In order to uncover if you are a carrier, a physician’s referral is required for the $3,000 test. The test is then followed by genetic counseling, surgical procedures, and final reconstruction. According to the National Cancer Institute, a combination of first and second-degree relatives diagnosed with breast cancer make for strong enough family history to be tested. Additionally, the risk of breast cancer increases with age, and although surveillance is the best strategy, testing can wait until the mid-late 30s.
A few weeks ago, Angelina Jolie publicized her decision to be tested for the BRCA1 gene and to take further action in a New York Times’ Op-Ed. It felt like she was talking directly to me! Jolie’s proactive decision for genetic testing came from her mother’s failed battle with breast cancer, which led to her brave decision to undergo a preventative double mastectomy – consequently diminishing her cancer risk from 87 percent to less than 5 percent. Jolie spoke candidly about her reconstructive surgery, addressing the multitude of women who believe a double mastectomy will diminish their femininity, by announcing her feelings of empowerment in making such a difficult decision.
The scary reality is that no one is immune to the villain that is cancer, not even the beautiful Angelina Jolie. Women should not succumb to the villain of BRCA1 in fear of losing one’s femininity; moreover, we should protect it. Although the genetic test may have daunting results, the power of knowledge can be lifesaving.