Four Things Every Woman Should Know About Breast Cancer

Authored By Lisa Cassileth MD, FACS

Melissa Etheridge Jolie Comments Unfounded: Four Things Every Woman Should Know About Breast Cancer

Breast reconstruction expert Dr. Lisa Cassileth knows what breast cancer can mean to a woman and her family. She has called Melissa Etheridge’s comments on the matter “unfounded” and seeks to warn others to make their own choices before cancer makes those choices for them.

“My belief is that cancer comes from inside you and so much of it has to do with the environment of your body. It’s the stress that will turn that gene on or not. Plenty of people have the gene mutation and everything but it never comes to cancer so I would say to anybody faced with that, that choice is way down the line on the spectrum of what you can do and to really consider the advancements we’ve made in things like nutrition and stress levels.” – Melissa Etheridge

Yesterday, I was meeting with one of my patients who had been diagnosed with breast cancer. There she is in front of me. She is so unbelievably healthy—she is someone that when she whips out lunch you go “eeew what is that?” (It is mixed vegetables with vinegar on it, I mean wonderfully healthy food.) She is a stay at home Mom. All she does is take care of her boys, she is not a stressed out person, and she just has a wonderfully healthy approach to life.

Despite the fact that she has lived this way, she reached over and felt a 4cm lump in her breast and was then diagnosed with invasive cancer. Further examination revealed that she had the BRCA2 gene. She had to go on Chemotherapy, all of her hair fell out and she thought she was going to die. Then she underwent a bilateral reconstruction. She had weeks to months of being tearful, thinking, “I won’t be here for my boys.” She made video tapes of herself saying, “If I die, I just want to let you know that I love you.”

Yesterday, she was done with all of her treatments, and after a year of doctor’s appointments, medication, injections and feeling horrible, she has her life back. If I could turn back time and tell her two years ago that she had the BRCA gene, her response would be, “Oh my gosh, how lucky are we that we found this. Get these breasts off so that I don’t have to go through it all.” So that she could avoid the emotional, physical stress, the radiation, chemo, and thinking that she will not be there for her boys.

To say that that her decision would have been cowardly instead of brave is unbelievably disempowering to her, and to any woman that makes that decision. In my opinion, both personally and medically, I think it is an amazing thing to undergo a prophylactic mastectomy because it allows you to make your choice in life instead of cancer making the choice for you.

Four facts that everyone should know about breast cancer:

1. How common it is – About 1 in 8 women in the United States will develop breast cancer over the course of their lifetime. It is the second most commonly diagnosed form of cancer in women.

2. Early Detection – Today one in five women diagnosed with breast cancer will die from this disease. But when breast cancer is detected early enough, the survival rate is 98%. Get regular mammograms and do monthly self-exams. Don’t put it off!

3. Genetic Testing – If a member of your immediate family has had breast or ovarian cancer, you can get tested for the BRCA mutation, which indicates as much as an 80% increased risk for breast cancer.

4. One surgery, a lifetime of possibilities – Today a preventive mastectomy is not only a choice, for many, it is a lifesaver. In my practice, we offer a one-stage reconstruction procedure that makes it possible to remove the affected tissue and place an implant during a single surgery. One procedure now makes it possible for a woman to lead a long, healthy cancer-free life.

Dr. Lisa Cassileth is a Board Certified Plastic Surgeon in Beverly Hills, specializing in breast reconstruction for cancer patients.

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