When did our breasts become our enemy?

I was very distressed to learn last week that Angelina Jolie had decided to have a double mastectomy.   Apparently she did this in hopes of reducing her risk of breast cancer.  Now I hear that she is considering having her ovaries removed as well.  She is being hailed as ‘courageous.’  Please understand that I am not here to comment on her decision.  We live in a free country, and people have fought long and hard to ensure that we have freedom to choose (along with our doctor) the best health care models that we can afford.  I am not second guessing her decision.  What I am doing is pondering the question: When did our breasts/ovaries become our enemies?  Why is fear of cancer leading women to take such drastic action?


Angelina is not the first celebrity, or even the first woman who has taken such proactive measures against the possibility of breast cancer.  We hear via the media, that many women are seeking this BRCA gene test, and are presumably following Jolie and others down the path of self-mutilation.  What I don’t see is men who may have the same BRCA gene mutation, going down to their physicians and asking to have their prostate and/or testicles removed.   Prostate cancer is the #1 most common cancer in men, just as breast cancer is the #1 cancer for women.  The same BRCA gene mutation is used as a diagnostic tool to help individuals understand their risks of these respective cancers.     I  posed the question to my husband yesterday:  “If you tested positive for the BRCA gene mutation, would you go to the doctor, and have your prostate removed?”   He looked at me blankly, considered the question, and said he would seek a second opinion.  READ–  No way!    Why is it that as a society, we think nothing of women having  prophylactic breast removal or ovary removal, but find it unthinkable that men would have the same prophylactic surgery regarding their prostates…… 


Where is the common sense? 


Someone at clinic asked me last week to explain the BRCA gene.  In the first place, EVERYONE has the BRCA gene.  So, what the labs are testing for, is not do you have the gene, but rather has the gene mutated.  If the gene has mutated, then the risk of cancer is increased.   What no one is saying is that genes or even mutated genes do not cause cancer.  Lifestyle factors cause cancer.  The top three causes of cancer are:  smoking, poor nutrition, and obesity.   All of these are lifestyle factors, and are preventable.  And, I might add, without removing body parts. 


No one is talking about epigenetics.   In short, epigenetics theory is that lifestyle factors and environmental factors cause genes to manifest either their good or bad sides.  ‘In 1986, for example, the Lancet published the first of two groundbreaking papers showing that if a pregnant woman ate poorly, her child would be at significantly higher than average risk for cardiovascular disease as an adult. Bygren wondered whether that effect could start even before pregnancy: Could parents’ experiences early in their lives somehow change the traits they passed to their offspring?’   (Why Your DNA Isn’t Your Destiny)

Why is this factor being left out of the conversation?   If I know that I have the opportunity, through my nutrition and changes in my environment to reduce my risk of cancer, I would not be operating out of fear, but rather of power.    Not wanting to appear too basic, but what if we had a different conversation?   What if, knowing I have the BRCA gene mutation, I take positive action (not going to the surgeon), but  by becoming very proactive concerning my diet and my environment?    An excerpt: 

‘The funny thing is, scientists have known about epigenetic marks since at least the 1970s. But until the late ’90s, epigenetic phenomena were regarded as a sideshow to the main event, DNA. To be sure, epigenetic marks were always understood to be important: after all, a cell in your brain and a cell in your kidney contain the exact same DNA, and scientists have long known that nascent cells can differentiate only when crucial epigenetic processes turn on or turn off the right genes in utero.

More recently, however, researchers have begun to realize that epigenetics could also help explain certain scientific mysteries that traditional genetics never could: for instance, why one member of a pair of identical twins can develop bipolar disorder or asthma even though the other is fine. Or why autism strikes boys four times as often as girls. Or why extreme changes in diet over a short period in Norrbotten could lead to extreme changes in longevity. In these cases, the genes may be the same, but their patterns of expression have clearly been tweaked.’

As a holistic practitioner, it is my hope that people research all the options.  Genes do have a say in how the body expresses itself; however, environment and diet also have a part to play in the quest for health.  Operating out of fear leads to powerlessness, and victimization.   What if we were truly courageous and changed what was making us sick. (environment and nutrition)   Let’s stop the insanity of removing body parts, and go back to a ‘whole-istic’ way in looking at the body. 

Until next time,

Dr. Polly





  • Denise Vessels says:

    Self mutilation is right!

    Early on, in my health/holistically uninformed years with children at home, I told Troy that if I ever had breast cancer in one, I would have the other removed…just in case, because I didn’t want the possibility of getting cancer a second time.  That was my thought process then….very uninformed, and based in fear, just as you wrote.  Awareness is key. 



  • Candy Turner says:

    Interestingly, Mike Adams, in his Natural News newsletter, commented today that men have already taken steps to follow in Angelina Jolie’s footsteps based on results of their BRCA gene test, and one man has already had his prostrate removed. I’m sure more will follow. Also, I would like to applaud you for your opening remarks. I haven’t even come close to voicing my opinion on this as eloquently as you did.

    • This new meme of medical self-mutilation is spreading fast, and surgeons are jumping on the bandwagon, realizing there’s a windfall of profits to be made from performing surgical procedures on people who don’t need surgery.

      Learn more: http://www.naturalnews.com/040401_prostate_removal_BRCA_genes_Angelina_Jolie.html#ixzz2TtRBhu2k

    • An article by Dr. Daniela Drake titled, Why I’m Not Having a Preventive Mastectomy29 presents the other side of the preventive mastectomy argument, and highlights the problems of our current paradigm:

      “Lobular Carcinoma In Situ (LCIS)… increases my odds of developing cancer from 12 percent to 30 percent. But still, my options, my doctor explained, include immediate bilateral mastectomy… She tells me that my chances of developing cancer are 80 percent and that if she were in my shoes she would ‘just have them both removed.’ …Her offhand manner suggests something deeply unserious—like a manicure…

      Although I used to be a vociferous advocate for aggressive medical interventions, my perspective changed radically when I began working as a house-call physician. My patients are too debilitated to go to the doctor’s office—and many were disabled by botched surgeries… I’m concerned about my surgeon’s flippancy and I suggest alternatives: ‘There’s growing data that this is a lifestyle disease. You know the Women’s Health Initiative shows exercise can greatly decrease risk.’

      ‘I don’t know. That may be true,’ she shrugs. ‘If we don’t do surgery, then we’ll just do mammograms every six months.’ When I object, saying that LCIS doesn’t show up on mammogram, she responds, ‘I know. It doesn’t make sense to me either.’ It becomes evident that we don’t know how to deal with my condition. The medical system does not tolerate ambiguity well, so breast amputation has become the answer…

      Now I know why patients are so mad at us. This is supposed to be patient-centered care. But it feels more like system-centered care: the medical equivalent of a car wash. I’m told incomplete and inaccurate information to shuttle me toward surgery; and I’m not being listened to. I came to discuss nutrition, exercise and close follow-up. I’m told to get my breasts removed—the sooner the better.

      Mastectomy may be appropriate in some cases, like in those where your risk of cancer is virtually 100 percent. But the risk of surgery—operative complications, infections, device and graft complications—remains significant. It’s callous and irresponsible to elide the risks to the public.”

      • Candy Turner says:

        It’s refreshing to actually hear someone in the medical professional admit that the system is flawed. If more doctors would speak up instead of cower to the system, people who listened could discover the joy of “living” as opposed to just being alive. I could literally write a book about the people I know personally who scrutinized the pathetic track record of the medical profession, considered their options, then chose to regain their health instead of add to the problem. They appreciate and live life to the full. The ones that followed doctors orders aren’t here to talk about it.

    • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JQh0a9HaYJ8 Great video! Lots of good information regarding breast cancer prevention. Thanks, Candy!

      • “It is important to note, however, that most research related to BRCA1 and BRCA2 has been done on large families with many individuals affected by cancer. Estimates of breast and ovarian cancer risk associated with BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations have been calculated from studies of these families. Because family members share a proportion of their genes and, often, their environment, it is possible that the large number of cancer cases seen in these families may be due in part to other genetic or environmental factors. Therefore, risk estimates that are based on families with many affected members may not accurately reflect the levels of risk for BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutation carriers in the general population. In addition, no data are available from long-term studies of the general population comparing cancer risk in women who have harmful BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations with women who do not have such mutations. Therefore, the percentages given above are estimates that may change as more data become available.”

        Learn more: http://www.naturalnews.com/040394_BRCA1_breast_cancer_gene_mutations.html#ixzz2UJZGeu00