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More Jamaica women undergoing double mastectomy

Published:Sunday | October 7, 2018 | 12:00 AMSyranno Baines/Gleaner Writer
Dr Patrick Roberts, surgical oncologist and hepatobiliary surgeon at the University Hospital of the West Indies

More Jamaican women are opting to undergo a double mastectomy as a precautionary measure against breast cancer, a growing trend as a result of the 'Angelina Jolie Effect', one local expert has suggested.

A mastectomy is the surgical removal of the entire breast. Women at very high risk sometimes have a double mastectomy - removing both breasts.

Jolie, best known as an American actress but also a filmmaker and a humanitarian, underwent a preventive double mastectomy in February 2013 after learning she had an 87 per cent risk of developing breast cancer because of a defective BRCA1 gene.

Her announcement in May that year attracted widespread publicity and led to a global and long-lasting increase in BRCA gene testing, which a Time Magazine cover story dubbed 'The Angelina Effect'.

"Since then, more women are becoming aware of breast cancer, more women are not ashamed to speak about their diagnosis, and more Jamaican women are actually opting for double mastectomy, whether it be that their risk was calculated to be high or that they had formal testing, and so on," Dr Patrick Roberts, surgical oncologist and hepatobiliary surgeon at the University Hospital of the West Indies, told The Gleaner during the annual breast cancer medical symposium at The Jamaica Pegasus in New Kingston yesterday.

October is observed as Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Roberts reiterated that the surgery is a multidisciplinary approach that is not carried out on-demand.

"We have to first ask what the reason is for the surgery. Is it that the person was diagnosed with cancer? Is the cancer to one or both breasts? Is there a family risk? And so on," he said.

"Also, most times, we'll give them the option of removing the breasts completely or to have a reconstruction, and if they opt to have reconstruction, there are different ways of reconstructing. So, it would involve an assessment by the plastic surgeon to discuss the reconstructive techniques and depending on the patient, sometimes it may involve psychological assessment and preparation. But oftentimes, the women who opt for this are very decisive and they know exactly what they want with no psychological issues."

Meanwhile, Roberts urged Jamaicans to know their family history of cancer and not just in relation to the breast.

"It is possible that no one in your family could have breast cancer but the other cancers that are in your family are part of syndromes associated with breast cancer. So, the key thing is for us to know the health history of our family, because it can have serious implications in our diagnoses and also how we are treated," he contended.

Breast cancer is the most prevalent cancer and is also the number one cause of cancer-related deaths among Jamaican women.