Friday, September 25, 2015

'Rollercoaster' writer's alternative: wait, watch

Author, now fighting breast cancer, urges Jews with gene mutation to get mastectomy

Elizabeth Wurzel
Author-journalist Elizabeth Wurzel can't understand "why anyone with the BRCA mutation...would not opt for a prophylactic mastectomy."

The 48-year-old, who found fame through her book "Prozac Nation," which detailed her battle with depression, had three surgeries in six months, eight rounds of the strongest possible chemotherapy, and still faces six weeks of daily radiation — because of her breast cancer and its spreading to five lymph nodes.

"All Ashkenazi Jewish women should be tested" for the BRCA breast cancer gene mutation, she contends, "because we have it at least 10 times the rate of the rest of the population: Up to one in 400 women is BRCA-positive, as opposed to one in 40 Ashkenazi Jews" — that is, Jews who originated in Eastern Europe.

Wurzel has had a double mastectomy and reconstruction, but indicates in a Sept. 25, 2015 op-ed in The New York Times she'd have preferred to have had those procedures earlier — "and skipped the part where I got cancer" — had she been aware she had the mutation.

To bolster her position, she also mentions statistics published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology that "the lifetime breast cancer risk for BRCA carriers is between 56 and 84 percent." 

She further notes that a Genetics in Medicine study found about 10 percent of the Ashkenazi women with breast cancer in New York carried the gene, but only half of those "had any family history of breast cancer among the first or the second degree relatives."

I, Woody Weingarten, author of "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," which is aimed at male caregivers, agree that all adult female Ashkenazi Jews ought to be tested for the mutation.

But I don't think they should immediately have their breasts removed — reconstruction or no.  

Why shouldn't an Ashkenazi Jewish woman just wait and keep a close watch on her body for any potential sign of breast cancer — and, if and when one shows up, then have the mastectomy done?

Why should she disfigure herself before that action is necessary?

More about the mutation, about breast cancer, and about the flip-flops that frequently occur in the medical and cancer industries can be found in "Rollercoaster," my VitalityPress book.

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