That'll kill you, you know

We've all seen them -- those "news" stories that pop up in your Facebook feed or your Twitter.

"Deodorant causes breast cancer."

"Cancer preventing diet saves lives!"

"Don't microwave your food. It causes brain tumors."

"Cell phones linked to brain cancer" (really this one is usually how it causes bad parenting, but whatever.)

Prior to knowing about my mutation, I used to joke that everything's going to kill us eventually or that everything causes cancer. Now, I look at it only a little differentlly.

We still don't know the origins of most cancers or why they occur or strike one person and not another. Studies have shown that parabens from antiperspirants do appear in the breast tissue of women who have cancer, but there is no assurance that it causes the cancer. What most people have not been taught is the scientific lesson that correlation does not equal causation. Although we see these things at the same time (in this case, cancer and parabens), it does not mean one caused the other, just that they both happened at the same time. See the infographic on the left for an example of two things that may have correlated, but very likely have nothing to do with one another. I first saw this on Facebook and the comments made my head hurt. It's a great teaching tool if people want to listen, but those people are harder to find.

We can all do things in our lives to better our health. We can run or walk. We can do weight-bearing exercises. We can choose to not smoke or drink. Staving off obesity lowers our risks of diabetes, heart disease, and other inflammatory conditions. Not smoking will actually lessen your chances of lung cancer dramatically. Not drinking maintains liver health. Weight bearing exercises improve bone health.

But when someone says to me, as a BRCA1 mutant, that I should do XYZ to lower my chances of breast cancer, I can't help but sigh.

There are a few lifetime things that affect your overall risk of getting breast cancer, mutant or not: time of first menstrual cycle (not as if we can control this), density of your breasts (NOT the size), age (good luck stopping that one), family history (ding, ding, ding) and breastfeeding.

And even that last one -- breastfeeding -- is low on my list of preventive measures despite being the only option you *might* have control over. To me, maybe it's a stall tactic. My aunt who nursed three kids until they were all 2 years old didn't get breast cancer, but she died of ovarian cancer. So maybe breastfeeding does help on one hand. But on the other? Not something I'm going to rely on.

And birth control, which many people know has been linked to breast cancer due to the hormones, has been shown to lower the risk of ovarian cancer, even in BRCA mutants, though it's questionable. So, yea, I still figure everything is going to kill us if it's not considered in moderation.

One of the women I talk to in my support groups basically had her doctor say, "Sure, you've got an 87% chance of getting breast cancer. And all that means is there is a 13% chance of something else killing you first."

Breast cancer is not the leading cause of death in women in the United States; heart disease is. So while I will not follow a health guru to lower my chances of breast cancer, I will try to improve my overall health so I'm not among those women who succumb to a more controllable disease (congenital heart issues aside, of course). But while being a healthy weight is linked to lower chances of breast and other cancers in the general population, I don't know how many times I have heard, "But she's just so ... healthy" in relation to someone newly diagnosed. Cancer is pretty non discriminate.

For me, there's not enough science to say what turns off my good genes and lets the mutation take over. They can't say why some women who have this mutation never get cancer or what makes BRCA1 more susceptible to triple negative breast cancer. I hope they continue to research this so maybe my girls can move away from pesticides or avoid soy or get a vaccine and know that the BRCA mutation will not affect them. But I don't have that luxury.

The only proven method for halting this process (and no, it's not 100% effective) and reducing my risk is to opt out of those organs that are plotting to kill me.

The difficult part is the when and to what extent. I'm reading an amazing book called Letters to Doctors written by a fellow BRCActivist and an OBGYN who met online with the common desire to educate the medical community about BRCA risk. While the overall aim of the book is helping doctors discuss this difficult topic with their patients, it's also giving me tons of information about my own upcoming choices. I highly recommend it if you want to expand your own knowledge as well.

But until someone can prove otherwise, I'll keep using deodorant and my smart phone, thanks.



  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Oh - it deleted! Fabulous article! Exceptionally true - correlation & causation are very different animals! Now off to see if our library has that book!

    1. and now it's there two times ... so very confused! oh well!


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