And no, I am not leading off with Angelina Jolie.
One of the big news stories for cancer patients and heart patients is a breakthrough announced recently by TRIUMF in combination with the BC Cancer Agency. TRIUMF is a research group originally created by a joint effort of Simon Fraser University, University of British Columbia, and University of Victoria. Over the years other universities from across Canada have also joined.
The research is geared to particle and nuclear physics. And back during my days at UVic it was a major employer of co-op students.
The TRIUMF group announced that they have developed a new method for creating the medical isotope technetium-99m (Tc-99m) that is used in CT scans, bone scans, and some heart function tests as well as other nuclear medicine procedures. There has been a shortage of medical isotopes for several years now due to aging nuclear reactors and in particular the shut down of the Chalk River reactor in Ontario.
The new method uses a medical cyclotron built in Richmond and is able to produce enough isotope for a city. The cyclotron is small enough to fit into a single room so large cancer centres across Canada and around the world would be able to produce their own isotopes. One added bonus is this new method decreases the dependence on nuclear reactors that use weapons grade uranium in their isotope production.
I heard recently that some of the funding for this research came from the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation so this is a good time to mention October 6th. Save that day for the CIBC Run for the Cure. I will be participating again this year and I will have details some time in the next month or so about my team for those of you who would like to participate and for everyone else to donate;)
Okay, now back to Angelina Jolie and her fake boobs. As I am sure everyone in the entire world has now heard Angelina Jolie was tested this spring for the genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 that are the most common hereditary causes of breast cancer. It was determined that Ms. Jolie was positive for the BRCA1 gene and her risk for developing breast cancer in her lifetime was somewhere around 80%. To protect herself she decided to have a double mastectomy and, I assume, reconstructive surgery.
One this first came out in the news many people that knew my story asked me what I thought of having a proactive mastectomy like that. I admit that my initial reaction was something along the lines of “really? Weren’t your boobs already fake? Does anyone really care?” And of course it was all over the news and it was a pretty common topic of conversation for a few days so apparently a lot of people did care.
My next thought was “wow, I hope a whole bunch of women don’t decide that BRCA screening is the latest and greatest thing since Botox and don’t all run about demanding testing. BRCA1 & 2 breast cancers are at most 10% of all breast cancer cases so it is not a factor for most women. From what I have heard at the BC Cancer Agency, in general, if your mom did not have breast cancer most doctors would not ever consider ordering the testing in Canada. In the States patients often seem to be more demanding of testing so down there it is possible there will be a spike in genetic testing.
On a side note, an American judge, or possibly the Supreme Court, recently decided that a drug company is not allowed to patent a gene. This means that the first company to create a test for a specific gene will no longer have proprietary rights to testing that specific gene. This is helpful for patients wanting BRCA testing done as the cost for testing a few months ago was $3000-5000. It is expected that that cost will drop significantly in the very near future if it has not already started to go down.
Once I got beyond the notion of why does anyone care about an actress and her breasts I actually thought about what I would do if I were in the position of being healthy and knowing I was BRCA1 positive and my risk of breast cancer was 80%.
My very next thought was “are you kidding? Who wouldn’t chop off their breasts?”
Looking at the situation from my own experience, I don’t even know what the cut-off point would be for me to decide a mastectomy was not the best option, 50%, 25%? I really don’t know. After everything that I have been through and the stress and upheaval to my life, my family, and my friends, I have to say that 1 in 9 women gets breast cancer. Why doesn’t everyone just chop the damn things off at 30 and be done with it. So many women go for implants these days, what’s a few more fake boobs running around?
I know women that test positive for one of BRCA genes start getting yearly mammograms much earlier than the standard 40, but based on my experience and the speed at which the tumour grew I am not totally convinced a yearly mammogram would be sufficient.
I say, do the mastectomy while you still have all your options. You can decide what sort of reconstruction you want and the surgery can be designed around the reconstruction rather than just cleaning up the aftermath of tumour removal. Or, as in my case, not being approved for reconstruction at all.
I gotta say, prosthetic boobs really are a pain in the ass.
That’s it for now, I have jumped off my soapbox. And don’t forget October 6th!