Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Cheating cancer one body part at a time...

How many surrendered body parts does it take to truly cheat cancer by BRCA mutation?  4 and counting….

The majority of women who test positive for a BRCA mutation view prophylactic mastectomy as the most effective strategy for reducing breast cancer risk.  Take out the ovaries too and we BRCA carriers reduce our risk of ovarian cancer from as high as 60 percent to something much closer to the general population average of 1.4 percent.

Seven years ago, when genetic testing for BRCA mutations was a relatively new option, the decision I faced seemed pretty cut and dry.  Keep the breasts and ovaries and very likely develop breast and/or ovarian cancer, or surrender some body parts and live a cancer-free life.  If only genetic mutations were so simple.  Since making that decision, science has had a lot more to say, mostly in the form of questions.

In addition to breasts and ovaries, BRCA mutations may also increase a woman’s risk of developing melanoma, leukemia, cervical, uterine, pancreatic, stomach, gallbladder (glad I don’t have mine!), bile duct cancers, and many others will be discovered I’m sure. Talk about a life sentence without any chance of being commuted! For the most part, medical researchers don’t know just how much BRCA mutations increase our risk of all these other cancers.  So what does a BRCA carrier do?  Wait?  Watch?  Push “it” out of our minds?  Keep “it” at bay with hope?  Dig in and search for answers?  Expel organs?

It depends.  Anywhere from all-of-the-above, to none-of-the-above, and everything in between. As family, we may share genes, but our responses to our genes are very much individual.  When and where does it stop?  Unfortunately for my family, not at our breasts and ovaries, not for at least 1 of us.  My maternal grandfather died from pancreatic cancer at the young age of 52. Unfortunately removal of my pancreas is not an option.

As BRCA mutation carriers, we have a lot to be grateful for.  We’ve beat a lot of odds, and yet such appreciation comes with a substantial burden, the burden of trading in body parts for a pass on cancer.  I just hope my tab is paid in full.

No comments: