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Angelina Jolie News Raises BRCA Awareness

Monday, June 10th, 2013

Celebrity gossip is usually centered on unimportant things, and as busy as I am I rarely pay attention to any of it. However, I was forced to take pause with the recent news of Angelina Jolie’s double mastectomy, which she decided to undergo after making discovery that she was a carrier of the BRCA1 gene. For once, celebrity gossip might be doing more good than harm. In the past few weeks, talk about the BRCA 1 and 2 genes has gained a lot of momentum.

An increasing number of women are realizing how important it is to receive this screening procedure, especially if they have a family history of breast and ovarian cancers. Many women had certainly not heard about BRCA 1 and 2 screenings until Jolie’s frank discussion of the issue—something which is astonishing, as studies have already shown that testing for the BRCA gene increases awareness in women, leading them to higher rates of surveillance with regular self-checks and mammograms, as well as to a higher rate of preventative operations to reduce their cancer risks, such as Jolie’s double-mastectomy.

In short, the Angelina Jolie story is one piece of celebrity news that I can get behind. It might be a little distressing to think that some women are only learning about such an important topic through gossip magazines, rather than through their doctors, but sometimes it is best to appreciate any help you can get. In this case, if a larger number of women receive genetic testing to determine whether or not they are a carrier of the BRCA 1 or 2 gene as a result of a celebrity news story, then at least it can be said that perhaps our celebrity culture has done something right for once.

Angeline Jolie should, of course, be commended for her strength in speaking so publicly about such an important issue. The fact that she was willing to open up about her experiences in hopes of raising awareness may help many women prevent breast and ovarian cancers.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.

Do We Need to Talk More About Mammograms?

Monday, May 13th, 2013

It seems like a no-brainer that women should receive screening for breast cancer with a mammogram. It is recommended by most doctors that women, starting between the ages of thirty and forty, begin to schedule their mammograms every two years. It is at about this time that breast cancer becomes a serious risk to most women, and it will remain a risk to most women until well after menopause. However, as serious as this issue is, there are still a lot of women who decide not to get mammograms. Why is that?

For patients, there is a real fear associated with mammograms. They can be uncomfortable, and there are always stories getting out about false diagnoses of breast cancer being made. In fact, it is likely that a lot of women will need to undergo a biopsy to determine whether a spot found in a mammogram is cancerous or not—however, the benefits of a potential diagnosis early on, before cancer has a chance to grow and spread, far outweighs the potential downside of having to undergo a biopsy when no cancer is present.

In addition, there are unfortunately still many women out there who treat the age of 70 as a magical cut-off point when they no longer need breast cancer screenings. However, most women who get breast cancer are over 50, and a large number of these are over 70. Senior women are not being told how important it is to receive a regular mammogram, as this study indicates.  A large number of younger women are also unaware of the importance of checking their breasts regularly with home examinations. It is important for women of all ages to be aware of the fact that they are at risk, no matter what their age, background, or current health.


– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.

Traditional Methods are Still the Best When Looking for a Diagnosis

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

Too many patients walk into my office looking for a quick fix for their problems. And why shouldn’t they expect a cure as quickly as possible? Nobody wants to feel sick, or live with unexplained symptoms. Nobody wants to worry that they have something seriously wrong with their bodies. However, all too often the patient’s idea of a “quick fix” is extensive testing and diagnostics. They see these highly advanced medical tools and think they’re a miracle tool that’s going to fix all of their problems. What these patients aren’t considering is that the best tool of all isn’t one that uses radio waves, computers, and high-tech imaging to get to the source of the problem.

The simple fact is, expecting high-tech diagnostics to get to the root of your medical issue could do more harm than good. Studies show that time is a factor in getting treatment for your problems, and a doctor can diagnose your problem far quicker than any machine. The first order of business for any doctor in treating their patient is determining whether or not they think an issue is serious enough to warrant extensive testing, which can be time-consuming and expensive. In most cases, an issue can be simply taken care of if you just trust your doctor’s gut instinct about what’s causing the problem and follow the course of treatment they lay out for you.

The fact that it can take a little time, and a handful of visits, to get to the root of the problem is a good thing. It may not seem that way if you’re experiencing headaches, nausea, or painful menstruation, but waiting it out and letting the doctor diagnose you with traditional methods has a lot of benefits. I’ve seen many patients come in thinking they had a serious illness, only to have the issue resolve itself with time, and patients whose problems persist are much easier to diagnose and treat when we stick it out and develop a detailed profile of their illness. There are times, of course, when us doctors get stuck. That’s when we’ll refer you to a specialist for high-tech testing. Just remember, no matter how fancy those machines may seem, the best resource you have for your health is the store of information and experienced located in your doctor’s brain.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.