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woman breastRecently there has been great controversy and discussion about preventative treatments for breast and ovarian cancer.  Previvors who have learned early that they are genetically prone to breast cancer and have the chance to act before it strikes, are currently finding themselves in a dilemma not only about the difficult decision of having a mastectomy but also the legal right to testing and identification of their risk factors.

BRCA-related breast cancer usually strikes before age 50, and is more likely to recur in the other breast. Ovarian cancer, which strikes about 50% of BRCA1 carriers, compared with 2% of the general population, is rarely detected early and is fatal three-quarters of the time.  Mammograms and ultrasounds tend to miss more than half of cancers in younger women with denser breasts. MRI tests are more reliable, but produce more false positives, which can lead to unnecessary biopsies and worry. It is not yet clear that early detection improves survival rates in women with BRCA mutations, however it does reduce risk factors substantially.

SurgeryMany women who have a family history of breast and ovarian cancer struggle with the decision to have preventative surgery to reduce the risk of cancer.  Young women contemplate the physical changes and appearance of their bodies, and never having the ability to nurse their own children.  Although plastic surgery has come a long way in the reconstructive process for women, it is not always an available option to women because of the high cost.  Despite these improvements breast function has not been attained.

Iangelina-jolien an article for the New York Times, Angelina Jolie discussed her decision to get a preventative double mastectomy to reduce her risk for breast cancer, a disease that took Jolie’s mother’s life at age 56.   Her article sparked discussion, investigation, and controversy over women’s rights for thorough and affordable genetic testing for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.  There is currently an ongoing Supreme Court intellectual property case involving Myriad Genetics who currently claims to own the rights to these critical breast cancer genes. Not just their specific test for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, but the actual isolated DNA sequence itself. Breast Cancer Action opposes human gene patenting and believe it’s wrong for the government to give one company the power to dictate all scientific and medical uses of human genes. Women need better and more affordable options for the treatment and risk reduction of breast cancer. Progress in the fight against cancer should not be controlled by the monopolies that gene patents create.

We invite all women to share with us their thoughts and views on this issue!