CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The recent public announcement of Amy Robach that she has just been diagnosed with breast cancer and scheduled a bilateral mastectomy is yet one more example of how vulnerable women are to breast cancer.
Robach is a television personality on "Good Morning America" and as part of a Breast Cancer Awareness television event, she had a mammogram performed to set an example for the public, rather than because she noticed a lump or any other sign or symptom; apparently there was no close family history of breast cancer either. Additionally, Robach is only 40 years old and is in good health, does not smoke, and watches her diet. In other words, to date, no one has said that she has any risk factors.
The fact that Robach is undergoing a bilateral mastectomy would indicate that she has probably been tested since her diagnosis for the BRCA genetic mutation that increases the chance of a woman developing breast cancer in her lifetime to up to 80 percent.
There is no comparable cancer that strikes the population at all ages for people in their 20s to 80s as does breast cancer, with the attendant death rates. Yet even though there is genetic testing "and unlike mammograms that have to be done every few years, the genetic test would only have to be done once, " such testing is not routinely offered or done.
It is important to note, that a positive genetic test for breast cancer in one woman means that all her close female relatives are also at increased risk. In other words, doing the BRCA test could save the life of several women, and not just for breast cancer, but ovarian cancer also. (There are even reports that male relatives of a woman who has the "Cancer Gene", are of increased risk for male breast cancer and prostate cancer.)
Furthermore, if a woman has the breast cancer gene and she develops breast cancer, that cancer has a greater chance of being more virulent with poorer chance of survival. While it may not be that too much of the emphasis on breast cancer is on the treatment and cure once it is diagnosed, but clearly not enough emphasis has been placed on prevention and genetic testing.
While genetic testing, if negative, does not mean that that person will not develop breast cancer, a positive test does mean that that person has an up to an 80 percent chance of having breast cancer, in their lifetime. If the appropriate treatment is done in a person who has the gene, but who has not yet developed breast cancer, their chance of even developing breast or ovarian cancer falls from that 80 percent to less than 3 percent according to some experts.
We should not stop trying to make it easier for women to get mammograms and examinations when needed, and biopsies and treatment as soon as possible after diagnosis" but more energy and resources should be placed on the effort to screen women from the genetic predisposition for breast cancer, as well as on research on other causes.
Lindsay is a doctor and lawyer in Charleston.