Preventative Breast Removal??

Health-related choices made recently by Angelina Jolie have caught a lot of attention and made the news around the world. There is much debate about the real motivations behind her decision and message to women. Some have even said her acknowledgement that "there are some wonderful holistic doctors working on alternatives to surgery" is a 'smoke screen'.

What Would You Do If… ?


What would you do if you were healthy, yet told by medical experts that you carried a BRCA1 gene, which increases your chance of breast cancer by 87%? Note the words: “increases a chance of breast cancer” NOT that you have signs of it currently.

Would you panic, run to your Doc and ask for breast cancer screening tests? Tests which happen to be patented by only one company costing $3,000 - $4,000 each. And what about the horrible costs for the invasive surgical procedures?

So you become worried, depressed and frightened at the thought of medical costs, insurance, your friends, family, job…

Or would you act like celebrity Angelina Jolie?

She recently announced1 that she had both breasts surgically removed (double mastectomy) and reconstructed. She said this reduced her risk to just 5%. She also encouraged women everywhere to know that in such situations, they have “options”, by implication, surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.

Problem solved, right?

In my opinion… Wrong.

Let’s look at the facts, and please note that many of them are publicly admitted by the National Cancer Institute as shown in the references below:

1. What are BRCA1 and BRCA2 and do they cause cancer?

BRCA1 and BRCA2 are human genes known as tumor suppressors. This means that in normal healthy cells, BRCA1 and BRCA2 help ensure the stability of the cell’s genetic material (DNA) and help prevent uncontrolled cell growth. Therefore, by nature, they can suppress mutations2.

Only IF something in their environment triggers them, can they become potentially harmful.

2. How do BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations affect a person's risk of cancer?

Not all gene changes, or mutations, are harmful. Some mutations may be beneficial3, whereas others may have no obvious effect (neutral).The likelihood that breast and/or ovarian cancer is associated with a harmful mutation in BRCA1 or BRCA2 is highest in families with a history of multiple cases of breast cancer, cases of both breast and ovarian cancer, and one or more family members with two primary cancers (original tumors that develop at different sites in the body).


  • Not every woman who has a harmful BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation will develop breast and/or ovarian cancer2.
  • Estimates of breast and ovarian cancer risk associated with BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations come from studies of large families with many members affected by cancer who also share similar lifestyles and environments. Those lifestyle / environmental factors were not removed or isolated from the study conditions2
  • There is no data 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 (ref 2)
  • We all have cancer micro cells as well as the ability to detect and keep cancer cells in check4

Therefore, given the above, the key question to ask is: what causes potentially harmful gene mutations in the first place, and how can we prevent this?

3. What causes potentially harmful gene mutations and how can we prevent this?

Many studies5 show how it is usually not the genetic defect that causes the disease. Rather, it is lifestyle choices: nutrition, exercise, stress, relationships, and the damaging side effects from some cancer treatments, which cause the gene to mutate.

Critically, note this 2009 study by the University of Montreal6 which specifically showed how Women with the BRCA-1 or 2 genes reduce their risk by 73 % if they eat a balanced diet of wholesome foods especially fruits and veggies.

Perhaps, BRCA1 and BRCA2 are not really "breast cancer genes", but simply junk-food intolerance

In short, I believe that life-style choices trump genes.

4. How do life-style choices influence genes?

How do life-style choices influence genes when most of us have been taught that our genes are unchangeable? That we are ‘stuck’ with who we are, and there’s nothing we can do about it?

In my blog “The Genie in Your Genes”7 I show how your lifestyle choices can improve or damage your genes and thereby affect your chances of disease. Your health is determined by your genetics reacting to your lifestyle NOT just to your inherited genetics.

So while one may have a ‘pre-disposition’ to a certain cancer, you can maximize your chances of not developing that cancer through a healthy lifestyle.

Cancer is not just a matter of "chance" or "luck." It's a matter of cause and effect. Genes can be turned on or off by food and lifestyle choices. Cancer is not a disease you just "get" like being randomly struck by lightning. It's something you can influence with your lifestyle choices.

So when a doctor says you have a "chance" of getting cancer, the implication is that you have no influence over cancer.

That, as I hope you see, is not true.


Love her or not, Angelina has a strong presence and is an inspirational role model for many women (some men too!). And there is much debate about the real motivations behind her decision and message to women. Some have even said her acknowledgement that “there are some wonderful holistic doctors working on alternatives to surgery” is a ‘smoke screen’.

I don’t want to go into that, or even to provide the publicly available debate references, because the facts become blurred by fiction. You can find them easily.

Rather, the real message women need to be hearing from influential people is risk of degenerative disease can be minimized through common sense, scientifically-backed dietary and lifestyle choices.

But also that, should you have breast cancer, and even the BRCA genes, there are many proven non-invasive alternative cancer treatments which may help heal the body8. These could be considered before embarking upon radical, potentially long term damaging cut and burn invasive techniques.

So please: don’t allow fear, greed, family history, or medical pressure to determine your life, health and well-being. Rather, be proactive and gather as much relevant information as possible from reputable sources. Cross check them. Discuss and debate.

Then sit quietly. Reflect. Listen to the quiet voice inside.

You are your best advisor, once you have done your own research and become informed. Then you can make better lifestyle choices for you.

Caramia Hartley


1 Angelina’s Story

2 National Cancer Institute data on BRCA1 and BRCA2  

3 Beneficial Mutations

4 We All Have Cancer Cells


5 Diet/Lifestyle Cancer Link Studies

  • Stewart, B.W. and P. Kleihues, eds. World Cancer Report. 2003, W.H.O IARC Press: Lyon, France.
  • Sorensen, T.I.A., et al., Genetic and environmental influences on premature death in adult adoptees. New England Journal of Medicine, 1988. 318: p. 727-32.
  • Khaw, K.-T., et al., Combined Impact of Health Behaviours and Mortality in Men and Women: The EPIC-Norfolk Prospective Population Study. PLoS Medicine, 2008. 5(1): p. e12.
  • Andersen, B.L., et al., Psychologic Intervention Improves Survival for Breast Cancer Patients: A Randomized Clinical Trial. Cancer, 2008. 113: p. 3450-3458.
  • Ornish, D., et al., Increased telomerase activity and comprehensive lifestyle changes: a pilot study. The Lancet Oncology, 2008: p. doi:10.1016/S1470-2045(08)70234-1.
  • Ornish, D., et al., Intensive lifestyle changes may affect the progression of prostate cancer. Journal of Urology, 2005. 174(3): p. 1065-9; discussion 1069-70.
  • Sorensen, T.I.A., et al., Genetic and environmental influences on premature death in adult adoptees. New England Journal of Medicine, 1988. 318: p. 727-32.

6 Ghadirian, P., et al., Breast cancer risk in relation to the joint effect of BRCA mutations and diet diversity. Breast Cancer Research & Treatment, 2009. 117: p. 417-422.

7 Blog “The Genie in Your Genes”

8 Non-Invasive Cancer Treatments:

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