On the surface, this may seem like an overly aggressive tactic to skirt cancer. However, Jolie’s family history is replete with tragic cancer deaths and she herself is a carrier of a mutant BRCA1 gene – more on that momentarily. Considered together, these attributes put Jolie in a high-risk category for cancer, so she elected to remove the time bomb from her system. Several doctors have applauded her decision given the circumstances. Jolie’s willingness to share her stories has created such an increase in awareness of genetic testing for disease that people call it the “Angelina Effect”.
|Cancer…don’t mess with Angelina.|
As discussed recently on THE ‘SCOPE, cancer is like a cellular rebellion and there is evidence that the cause of that rebellion is largely bad luck. In some cases, all it takes is one bad gene to incite the riot and in Jolie’s case it is BRCA1, which stands for BReast CAncer 1. BRCA1 is a key “biomarker” for cancer, meaning that the sequence of this gene can be an indicator for the likelihood that the cell housing it could go rogue and cause cancer one day. According to one study, women possessing a mutation in BRCA1 have a cumulative lifetime risk of 50%–85% of developing breast cancer and up to 60% of developing ovarian cancer.
BRCA1 is a protein linked to many diverse cellular functions, some of which involve cell growth and the repair of damaged DNA. A mutation in the gene encoding BRCA1 can compromise the activities of the corresponding protein, wreaking havoc in the cell and potentially causing it to start replicating uncontrollably. So BRCA1 is a hero of sorts, a police officer that keeps cells in line. But if the officer is wounded, the cell has a ripe opportunity to rebel and take over the body in the form of cancer.
|Angelina’s character Lara Croft can’t wait to get into tombs, but Angelina is doing all she can to delay entry into her own.|
|A preemptive strike against cancer by removing the suspect organ is not always a good strategy – consider brain tumors, for example!|
Contributed by: Bill SullivanFollow Bill on Twitter.
James, C., Quinn, J., Mullan, P., Johnston, P., & Harkin, D. (2007). BRCA1, a Potential Predictive Biomarker in the Treatment of Breast Cancer The Oncologist, 12 (2), 142-150 DOI: 10.1634/theoncologist.12-2-142
King, M. (2003). Breast and Ovarian Cancer Risks Due to Inherited Mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 Science, 302 (5645), 643-646 DOI: 10.1126/science.1088759