Op Ed: Oppositional Editorial — Double Mastectomy

Op Ed: Oppositional Editorial — Double Mastectomy post image

This is a new feature where I let off some steam about events related to health and nutrition in the media. This is where I let my inherent sarcasm rise to the surface and splinter the lunacy we call evidence based medicine.

The other day Angelina Jolie’s decision to have a double mastectomy, in order to prevent breast cancer, was played all over the media. After thinking about the situation and reading more about it, I’ve had several reactions to this news.

Honestly, my first reaction was to empathize with her — after all, when you have a high risk of a cancer, it can be scary. But then I thought — what are you crazy? I realized that I also have a high risk of cancer on both sides of my family. In my case it is colon cancer. Would I even think for one minute of surgically removing my colon to prevent cancer? Of course not and no surgeon could justify removing a colon prophylactically. While there is a pouch reconstruction, it is a very poor replacement for a colon.

Come along on my free association — would I surgically remove a kidney, a lung, my liver, my pancreas, my stomach, my brain in order to prevent cancer in these susceptible organs?

Would you?

Do They Remove Testicles In Order To Prevent Testicular Cancer?

Better yet, would a surgeon recommend and perform the removal of a man’s testicles in order to prevent testicular cancer — or the prostate? You never hear of any surgeries to remove the prostate as a preventative in men. I wonder why? A man can live happily ever after without a prostate. If cancer is in the family, why not remove it?

Double mastectomies were the norm for cancer treatment years ago. Male surgeons easily lopped off a woman’s breasts when the diagnosis was breast cancer. It seems that since we now have the science (or pseudoscience) of BRCA gene testing, there is a rationale for this radical surgery. Woman are being tested for this gene and if it comes up positive a new added fear is firmly placed in their consciousness.

Here again, we have to follow the money. If double mastectomies become more fashionable — due to celebrity role models empowering women to mutilate themselves — surgeons make more money. A double mastectomy certainly costs much more than a simple lumpectomy. Additionally there is all the reconstruction surgery required — more dollars in the surgeons’ pocket.

When you are a surgeon, surgery is the only cure.

Epigenetics is an Emerging Science

Surprisingly, most people are not aware of the emerging science of epigenetics. For many years, the paradigm in scientific research was that scientists would crack the genetic code so that every disease could be linked to its gene, and then drugs could be created to modify those genes — eliminating the disease. It turns out to be much more complicated than that.

Epigenetics is a process in which a gene directs the making of a protein and that protein changes the cell environment, ultimately altering the way the gene is read.

Epigenetic changes occur when DNA makes proteins, and then those proteins change a cellular environment, causing alteration in genetic function. So, while you may have a gene that is associated with a disease, the expression of the disease may or may not occur based on the environment around the gene — in other words the nutrient, toxin and psychospiritual status of the individual.

Stress Physiology is a Large Part of Disease Risk

The above factors determine our physiology and are a major part of disease risk. In fact, this study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, indicates that a cancer diagnosis can lead to increased risk of heart-related deaths and suicide in the seven days following diagnosis.

It can take weeks to come to terms with a cancer diagnosis. I fervently hope Angelina took into account the many contributing factors in disease risk to make her decision. She didn’t even have cancer — she only had a blood test — but one that too many people put much too much weight on.

Self Fulfilling Prophecies

Doctors are still seen as god-like beings, especially those involved in cancer. However, a doctor’s negative attitudes and beliefs can instill terror and hopelessness in a patient — the nocebo effect. This can be tramatic and add to the self fulfilling prophecy of dying from cancer.

We all know that our thoughts and beliefs are a large part of who we are and where we are going. Our thoughts generate physiological stress responses that can impact our health. If you really believe that you will get cancer, perhaps you will.

I absolutely HATE when doctors tell patients how long they have. In my mind, no one can predict how long one can live. There are so many factors involved that we just don’t know about. Giving a doctor the power to determine this just makes me want to shake someone and say — take control of your health and your life — don’t allow someone else that power!

Cancer Prevention

The guidelines for cancer prevention given by the American Cancer Society and the US government are bogus. What you really need to know about is the impact of our food and environment on our health — and the things you need to do and can do to avoid disease. The guidelines of the Weston Price Foundation are a good place to start.

This is just my humble opinion — usually the opposite of conventional guidelines.

What do you think? Leave a comment and let me know!

Read the Dietary Guidelines of the Weston Price Foundation Here.


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Leave a Comment

  • Lori May 15, 2013, 9:49 pm

    I completely agree. The key is to prevent cancer through eating lots of organic fruits and vegetables and staying far away from sugar and chemicals. The surgery itself has many risks along with breast implants. It all seems so unwise to me.

  • Laura @ Stealthy Mom May 15, 2013, 10:17 pm

    The first thing that popped into my head when I saw the headline was how money factors in. If I was to go have an elective mastectomy, would Blue Cross pay for it? And if they did, would they do a “perfect” reconstruction? I feel sad that this lady was scared into having such a radical procedure, but her world and mine are not the same.

  • Meagan May 16, 2013, 12:18 am

    You always say exactly what I am thinking! I can’t wait to read more of these 🙂

  • Sarah May 16, 2013, 5:15 am

    Why are we all so quick to judge someone else’s decision? I have had genetic counseling due to family history and would have considered a preventive mastectomy if I had been a carrier – but it would have been my decision. I can eat well and exercise and take care of myself, but if I have a genetic disposition to a specific type of cancer I would consider surgery to reduce it. That’s me – it doesn’t have to be the decision for you. I would hope that rather than judge me for it, people would have empathy for the challenging issues everyone faces. Angelina Jolie made her decision – she’s not saying every woman with the BRCA mutation should make the same decision, but that was her decision. She’s being open about it as an option – and also because I’m sure the tabloids would go insane over her reconstruction otherwise.

  • JCleary May 16, 2013, 6:06 am

    “Preaching to the choir”. If you would some how convey this information to Angelina, it might turn the tide.

  • Malia Schroeder May 16, 2013, 6:56 am

    I had the same reaction when I read a blog thread yesterday on another site. Many women on the thread advocated having an at-risk, not cancerous thyroid removed and taking replacement supplements because it would be easier than monitoring it or changing diet/lifestyle to improve thyroid health. Baffling.

  • Georgia Joyner May 16, 2013, 7:13 am

    What a great topic. I am a 49 yr old , 3 year, stage 3 breast cancer survivor. When I read about A.Jolie, I thought I would cry. I had the strongest chemo, 35 radiation treatments, a LUMPECTOMY, and take Tamoxifen to block estrogen. I went through all that, and KEPT my boob. I had cancer in a lot of my lymph nodes, but the lumpectomy and all other treatment was a success.

    The point in telling all of this is that, I actually HAD cancer, but with a second opinion, lots of research, lots of talking and learning, I could still keep my boobs, as the above treatment has the same success rate as a mastectomy.

    I am continuing to hear about so many double mastectomies when there is even just a slight hint of cancer, say stage 1, or even stage 0.

    I’m certainly not going to judge any woman who has been told they have cancer. Because I’ve been down that path, and it’s a rough one to walk.
    But, I do wish doctors would not be so quick to perform these radical surgeries which are full of complications.

  • Susan May 16, 2013, 8:58 am

    While I do think this is crazy and I don’t think I would do the same thing. I disagree that it all comes down to money. I am married to a surgeon who sees at least 75-80% of his patients without doing surgery. He does lots of consulting and goes the unconventional route whenever possible. ( Although he does orthopedics, so he can send people for therapy, etc before deciding on surgery). I hate when people jump the the conclusion that surgeons are only trying to make money. I’m sure there are some out there like that, but most went into the field after 8 years of school and at least 5 years of residency because they had the ability to help people. The reason why surgeons are doing these kind of surgeries is because of fear of cancer that society has put on all of us and I put a lot of blame on the Susan G Koman foundation for much of that. Without all of the radiation from mammograms, would the rate of breast cancer even be as high?
    It frustrates me too to hear about things like this and I wish it wasn’t becoming the norm, but don’t be so quick to judge the surgeons, there are so many factors involved!

  • Heather Kallimani May 16, 2013, 9:12 am

    Right on, Jill! I don’t think I’m judging anyone but why wouldn’t you do more research on the subject of cancer if you got it or think you’ll get it? I always thought I would get cancer because 2 of my grandparents died from it. After researching nutrition and food, I have come around to think otherwise and to think I have a chance of NOT getting it. It frustrates me that women aren’t told anything other than get rid of your boobs or chemo, not NUTRITION!

  • Barb Byers May 16, 2013, 9:29 am

    Wow, I cannot believe the judgments here. The genetic testing for this particular kind of cancer is well established, and she had almost a 90% risk of having breast cancer, as well as 50% chance of ovarian cancer. She already has had her children, and wants to be around for them. One of my best friends just made this agonizing decision as well. She tested positive for the genes, and we saw her mother get breast cancer in her mid 30’s, and then die from ovarian cancer in her mid 40’s. It was absolutely horrible. My friend is in her early 50’s but had been think about doing this for about 5-6 years. So bravo to her, and to AJ for making a courageous decision. And someone commented as if it was the same as cutting out your colon if you have a family history of colon cancer. It is not the same – breasts are not necessary organs once you’re done with breastfeeding. It really is sad that someone who had to make a scary decision, used the latest medical testing and research to inform herself, isn’t better supported.

    • Jill May 16, 2013, 4:44 pm

      Personally I wonder just how accurate the BRCA testing is. And if I were making a major decision like this I would certainly look into the accuracy of the testing. As we all know, recommendations for testing change as new information is gathered (like the issues with mammography for instance).

      Your personal experience with your friend gives you a different perspective — of course.

      I just wonder how much lifestyle and nutrition counseling AJ received along with the results of the test. I my opinion, too much weight is given to the test and not enough correct nutrition and lifestyle information.

      It’s not just breast cancer — cancer is systemic and indicates a body out of balance. Fear of cancer should be addressed with lifestyle actions taken to improve health.

      Finally, they always thought the appendix is unnecessary. Now we know it is an important site for storage of beneficial bacteria. Who knows what we may find out about the importance of breast tissue in years to come.

  • Angela at DIYhealthblog May 16, 2013, 10:42 am

    I love the term “nocebo” and agree that doctors often give bad news that can become self fulfilling prophesies. I write about the fact that people should take their health in their hands on my blog. I healed myself from IBS when doctors told me it was Incurable. Health is so complicated that not even doctors can see the whole picture. That is why we need to become experts on our own bodies instead of giving that power away. We are our own best healers.

  • Cheryl L May 16, 2013, 11:38 am

    I agree with Barb Byers. The decision to do this surgery is very personal, and should be supported. Sometimes nutrition is not enough, or a healthy lifestyle either. But, wanting to watch your children grow up is plenty of motivation for me. I say bravo also.

  • Brenda May 16, 2013, 12:00 pm

    Thanks for this…I was feeling like such a cynic for thinking that Ms Jolie’s decision was another ploy to bring attention to yet another of her causes and that her choice was terribly premature.Unfortunately we’re going to see too many more women, having been “empowered”,make this same choice of self mutilation .When will we stop giving celebrities so much power to influence our decisions, large or small? Why have we allowed them expert status in anything?

  • Theresa May 16, 2013, 12:17 pm

    I worked in the cancer industry from age 23 to 39 at major regional centers on the east coast and I’m appalled at this “new approach” to helping a woman deal with the possibility of breast ca. we as women are being short-changed by this barbaric therapy.

    William Stewart Halsted (September 23, 1852 – September 7, 1922) was an American surgeon who emphasized strict aseptic technique during surgical procedures, was an early champion of newly discovered anesthetics, and introduced several new operations, including the radical mastectomy for breast cancer. Along with William Osler (Professor of Medicine), Howard Atwood Kelly (Professor of Gynecology) and William H. Welch (Professor of Pathology), Halsted was one of the “Big Four” founding professors at the Johns Hopkins Hospital.[1] Throughout his professional life, he was addicted to cocaine and later also to morphine,[2] which were not illegal during his time.

    By the way one of the cancer breast therapies consisted of a stump amputation that was a radical mastectomy plus the removal of the arm on the affected side–truly barbaric. Are we moving back in that direction???

  • Debbie May 16, 2013, 1:49 pm

    My thoughts exactly! I am so sorry that Angelina felt she had to make that decision based on a blood test, which hopefully was done completely properly.

  • Candice May 16, 2013, 3:07 pm

    I agree completely! I respect every woman’s right to decide what is best for her and her family, but at the same time it’s very sad that the medical industry bullies people into taking such drastic measures. I had cervical cancer at only 37 and had to undergo a hysterectomy. I was luckily able to keep my ovaries and I don’t live every day of my life worried that cancer will come back like I’m a ticking time bomb. After the experience, I changed my diet and my lifestyle to try and clean a lot of the toxins we are exposed to in the modern world. I’ve tried to get back to traditional, real foods. I also totally agree that you don’t see them advocating for men to lose testicles or prostate glands. And I believe we’ll see a cure for prostate and testicular cancer before we ever see one for ovarian or cervical cancer. Are men also subject to the BRCA test and has anyone heard of them having breast tissue removed becuase of a fear of cancer? Just wondering.

  • Charlotte May 16, 2013, 3:40 pm
  • Susan Weinberg May 17, 2013, 3:26 am

    Bravo, Jill! You think just like me. 😉

    I am one who don’t look at doctors as god-like beings. In fact, I give them a piece of my mind of what I think of what when they want to try a new medication on me. I currently live in an area with many hospitals and a university medical school and the local doctors are the biggest pill pushers.

    I also blame the Susan G Komen Foundation for the breast cancer hysteria of the last decade or so. I know now that there are invasive forms of mammograms out there but, the vast majority are done by the mobile M.O.M. vans that do X-ray mammograms in parking lots of clinics. And I also believe if a woman were to get her breast zapped every year after the age of 30 well, of course she’ll develop breast cancer. X-rays are somewhat radioactive radioactive. Otherwise x-ray technicians wouldn’t go to another room when they do the x-ray.

  • MQ May 19, 2013, 1:51 am

    Hey, everyone–remember–her breasts and her decision. Your breasts–your decision. Don’t be so judgmental.

  • Cristy May 20, 2013, 9:24 am

    I find most of you very judgemental. Most of you have not been in those shoes you judge so well.

    I had a double mastectomy at the age of 28, I did not have cancer. That was 23 years ago. Before brca testing. I’m sitting here totally flat chested no reconstruction. When you watch every woman in your family die from a disease it is horrible.

    In today’s world we condemn one and applaud another without being in those shoes. Yes I don’t have boobs they were taken away by a female surgeon after a number of consults.

    I would be more condemning of the poison in the implants then of the actual surgery. I am still the
    person I was then, so what I don’t have boobs. I got to see my children and now grandchildren grow.

    What Angelina went thru is not new it has been going on for years. Genetic testing is newer and you don’t just get a test in the mail there is extensive counseling involved.

    Therefore do not judge as I do not judge you. Until you walk in my shoes you know not of which you speak.

  • Leslie May 21, 2013, 2:41 pm

    I was in college when I had my first lump removed. I remember walking around terrified about cancer. Then I took my first microbiology class and realized we all have cancer our bodies just deal with it and destroy it. When our bodies become out of balance through toxins and improper nutrition it can’t deal with it and the cancer takes hold. We have been misinformed about our Standard American diet. Proper nutrition is everything, genetics is only a miniscule part. Mental disease can even be changed through diet, people just need to get educated. We have the most advanced health care system in the world and the most sick people in the world HELLO. Follow the money honey from the Monsanto’s to the government subsidies, to the doctor’s. All research isn’t to find cures it’s to develope pharmaceuticals and expensive testing. My two cents!

    • Jill May 21, 2013, 3:23 pm

      @ Leslie,
      Well said! Thanks for sharing!

  • Andi Locke Mears May 24, 2013, 2:33 pm

    I’d like to say I agree with many of the sentiments expressed here but I can’t because it seems as though all of the sentiments appear to still believe in the allopathic definition of “cancer” which involves malignant cells, rogue cells, unexplainable growths, and more.

    This definition is part of the “old” medicine.

    I invite everyone to get out of fear of our own bodies by learning the biological form of medicine known as German New Medicine. It was discovered by a doctor and has been verified in Europe. Once we all know GNM, “healthcare” (disease-management) will change forever. Someday, GNM will be taught in medical schools because it is based on five biological laws that are true for all beings 100% of the time.

    Sadly, it is often fear that kills us. Fear of toxins, fear of our bodies, fear of “diseases,” and fear of nature.

    Get educated, get out of fear and teach your children to get out of fear!

    Learn more at my teacher’s website: http://www.learninggnm.com.
    In Peace,