Angelina Jolie made a very personal, difficult decision which we should all respect. The issue of what women should do who are at higher risk of breast cancer due to a genetic mutation is fraught with complexities and difficult decisions.
It is important to put this issue in context. Ms Jolie's situation is rare. Less than 12% of women in this country will get breast cancer. Of those who do, less than 10% will have a BRCA mutation. While the BRCA mutation gene increases the risk of getting breast cancer, it does not mean a woman is more likely to die of breast cancer than others with the disease.
It would be a great disservice to women if, as a result of Ms. Jolie's story, women at normal or low risk of breast cancer rush to demand genetic testing or undergo prophylactic mastectomy, a serious procedure with significant consequences.
We have invested billions of dollars in science and raising awareness yet we have little more than disfiguring and barbaric options to offer women like Ms Jolie. We do not know how to prevent or cure breast cancer for any individual woman. Rates of initial diagnosis of lethal breast cancer have barely budged since 1975. It's time to change the focus and the conversation. NBCC set a deadline to know how to end breast cancer by January 1, 2020. To get there we must focus on how to stop women and men from getting breast cancer, not just lower their risk, and how to prevent deadly spread of the disease to other organs, which is responsible for more than 90% of deaths. We owe that to future generations.