Friday, August 29, 2008

Breast Cancer and the Stressed-out Dodo

Remember the Dodo birds from the Disney movie Ice Age? There's a part where they all walk around chanting, "Doomed. Doomed. DOOMED. DOOOOOMED!" Just before they all accidentally walk, jump, fall or roll off the cliff one by one.

Well, that's about how I feel every time I read a new article about breast cancer research. This morning's article on Yahoo Health informed me that I was doomed from childhood.
According to the latest research by Dr. Ronit Peled of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beer Sheva, experiencing severe life events at a young age (before 20) can increase your risk of developing breast cancer by as much as 62%. Well, shit.


Peled studied 622 women between 25 and 45 years old. 41% of them had been diagnosed with breast cancer, the other 59% had not. Their "Severe Life Events", such as loss of a spouse or close relative were tallied as well as mild/moderately stressful events like bad illness, tragedy or job loss and they were given a questionnaire to determine their anxiety, depression, happiness and optimism levels.

Guess what? The women who had two or more severe or mild/moderate life events were 62% more likely to have beast cancer. Plus, those mild/moderate life events seem to build on each other for a cumulative effect. Oh, goody!

The good news? Women with a "general feeling of happiness and optimism" had a lower risk of being diagnosed. About 25% lower.

His conclusion: Women suffering severe losses at a young age should be considered at high risk for breast cancer and treated accordingly. Do you hear that AMA???

Also of note, Isreal has the highest incidence of breast cancer in the world. But it's not like there's any stress about living there or anything.

As I read the article I did a quick mental calculation of my pre-20 Severe Life Events.
  • Age 11 - Dad clinically died for 5 1/2 minutes.
  • Age 14 - Dad died.
  • Age 15 - House burned down
  • Age 15 - Close schoolmate committed suicide
  • Age 17 - Schoolmate killed in freak car accident


Looking back, I had many risk factors for breast cancer that I was unaware were even risk factors. Of course, there is the ever-popular BRCA2 genetic mutation. But, hey, it's not like I knew about that before hand. I had read, however, about the increased risk for women who had their first child after the age of 30. I was 33. What was I supposed to do about that, though? Go pop out a pup just to avoid the Big C? Hardly.

And this article brought to my attention the role early stress may have played in my disease. Also, the Mayor of Lemonland at World Wide Breast Cancer informed me that a history of benign breast biopsies is also a high risk indicator for breast cancer.

Huh. See what I mean? Me and the Dodos had a lot in common.

Cross posted at Mothers with Cancer.


sarah said...

Well if that's true than I was doomed as well.

I'm sorry to hear about your dad. As you know, I know about parental loss, so my heart goes out to you (een all these years later). I'm going to go read that article now...thanks for posting it!

sarah said...

one more thing: as for the research stating that Isreali women having the highest BC incidence, have the factored out for the genetics of Ashkenazi Jewish (family from Eastern Europe) heritage? It doesn't appear so.

I don't doubt the truth of the research, but I would imagine that many Ashkanazi's live in Isreal and, given this groups extremely high BC rate due to genetics, I don't think they should be included in a general statement about high rates of BC without mention of that extremely relevant fact.