Women with breast cancer who are concerned about their future, their health, and their image, can identify with the 24-year old Miss America contestant Allyn Rose and her double mastectomy, according to the January 11, 2013 ABC news report by Hannah Dreier, Associated Press, "Miss America Contestant Pursuing Double Mastectomy."
The bigger picture in this story is that the University of Maryland, College Park politics major plans to undergo a double mastectomy soon not because she already has cancer, but as a cancer prevention tool. She's removing both her breasts in order to prevent cancer, just in case it happens in the future. The surgery is being done as a preventive measure to reduce her chances of developing a type of breast cancer that runs in her family and can be inherited.
If she has been genetically tested, she'd know whether she inherited the breast cancer gene that raises the risk of developing with breast cancer which took the lives of her mother, grandmother, and great aunt. Geneticists look at breast cancer in the family of close relatives to see whether a person has inherited the genetic variation that raises the risk of developing breast cancer.
If a woman has a mother, grandmothers, and great grandmothers or close relatives such as sisters of great grandmothers with cancer in the same location, then genes can be tested to see whether specific mutations or variations are present that raise the risk of developing cancer in the same area of the body, sometimes at similar age levels.
The Miss America contestant, Allyn Rose is using her chance to bring awareness to the public in a message about breast cancer prevention using her primary tool as a beauty queen. Allyn Rose is currently Miss DC and a contestant in the Miss America pageant which will be held on January 12, 2013 in Las Vegas.
Allyn Rose, age 24, plans to undergo a double mastectomy after she shows her talent roller skating and wearing a bikini in the contest. The reason she is removing both breasts is proactive and preventive.
The bilateral mastectomy will be done as a preventative measure to reduce her chances of developing the disease which could strike at any time, and at any age. It struck her mother at age 27.
The big questions are whether DNA always is destiny, or whether it will happen and when, and whether the gene comes from her own mother or her father's mother -- that is whether the gene with the mutation is in the mtDNA or another location, since mtDNA and sometimes defects in the mtDNA are passed from grandmother to mother to daughter. Doctors already know why it happens -- due to a genetic mutation or variation that's inherited. The question is when and if it will strike.
To take that worry off one's shoulders, one solution is to remove both breasts. Then the next worry is whether cancer will begin in another area of the body, and whether that possibility is manageable with diet and lifestyle. The biggest fear some women have about cancer is whether DNA is destiny or can it be controlled by other means such as food, exercise, and de-stressing.
The double mastectomy is a proactive, preventive tool
Once the both breasts are surgically removed, there is a lower risk of developing cancer in that place in the body due to genetic mutations that apply to the breast. If Allyn Rose wins the Miss America beauty pageant, she will be the first Miss America who has had a double mastectomy during the time she is a contestant in the Miss America pageant. There are a rising number of women with the same genetic risk running in the family for breast cancer who have had double mastectomies at a young age to lower the risk of developing cancer later.
Some women in their twenties with other cancer risks also get the organ removed as a preventive, proactive tool such as getting ovaries removed or a hysterectomy if ovarian or cervical cancer runs in the family. But for breast cancer, it's based on genetic evaluations, not whether a person has a family history of cervical cancer based on a virus. With breast and ovarian cancer, there may also be a genetic link. And for those without genetic links, there's also the role of diet and lifestyle in cancer risk.
Actually, Allyn Rose's dad talked to her about it when she was a college freshman because her mother had died young of breast cancer, while Allyn Rose was still in high school. The decision can be very difficult for a young person who enters beauty pageants, but it's about deciding if you want to live or want to keep your body parts and die young from an aggressive, genetic type of breast cancer that in turn gets inherited in a continuing chain from mother to daughter and close female descendants. It took her three years to make up her mind as she worked as a model and won numerous pageants such as Miss Maryland USA, Miss Sinergy, and Miss District of Columbia beauty pageant competitions.
The Miss America pageant
Saturday, when the Miss America contest is shown, the blonde, blue-eyed beauty contestant had to make a tough decision. At 24, she must have thought about her mother's cancer diagnosis when her mother was only age 27. If she doesn't remove both breasts, that could mean having a time bomb in your body. In her mother's case, one breast was removed in her 20's, but she waited until her 40s to take off the other one, and that was too late.
The cancer in Allyn Rose's mother had spread. But when both breasts are removed on Allyn Rose at the same time at the age of 24, before cancer develops, she will have reconstructive surgery. There's no guarantee she'll look the same after the surgery, even with reconstruction. But preventive surgery gives her a new roll of the dice, the chance to live without thinking every minute that there's a time bomb in your DNA. Peace of mind is more important that getting a guarantee that you'll have the same measurements as before. After all, in the contestant business, women have what the news calls, "pageant-approved breasts."
Having the breasts removed takes the stress off constant testing and mammographies
Preventive surgery is done as a proactive tool when there's a family history and genetic mutation for a specific disease such as breast cancer. The alternative is constant testing for cancer, many more mammograms, maybe ultrasounds, and perhaps more surgery, if tumors are found. It would be a lifetime of testing every few months to see whether the gene mutations show up at a specific age or to compare that age with the age of female relatives diagnosed and see whether the cancer first began in all of the female relatives who died from breast cancer during their twenties or at any other age.
See the article, "Rate of Double Mastectomies Goes Up - Breast cancer.org." The worry of what will happen when reaching that time line is stressful. But an increasing number of women do opt for preventive double mastectomies based on genetic tests and looking at what reconstructive surgery outcomes and complications look like. Reward is compared to risk. Sometimes doctors tell women at very high risk that it isn't a matter of what if, but when the cancer will develop or what event in one cell will start the process. Check out, "Prophylactic mastectomy: Surgery to reduce breast cancer risk."
Bilateral mastectomy as a risk-cutting tool
On the other hand, there are news articles telling women another view. See, "Medical Madness: More women scared into double mastectomy as way to prevent cancer." Some types of genetic tests screen for mutations in the tumor-suppressing BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes. For various women, having a mutation in either gene can increase a woman's breast cancer risk by 80 percent. In numerous women with such a mutation, they might have a breast cancer risk of 22 percent, rather than the average of 12.5 percent.
Bilateral mastectomy can cut this risk by about 90 percent -- bringing it, in the case of the "average" woman to about 2 percent. But the final decision is with the woman. If most of the close female relatives died early of the exact same diagnosis in the same area, the breasts, for example, the double mastectomy does remove the worry of constant testing for cancer and the worry whether the test missed the earliest stages. The important point is to make the healthiest choice for yourself as an individual. Check out, Miss America contestant on double mastectomy.
Interestingly, Lee Meriwether, 77, Miss America, 1955 is featured in the AARP Bulletin on what it was like back then being on TV when the pageant appeared on TV for the first time. See, "Lee Meriwether, Miss America 1955, Hasn't Slowed Down - AARP." The event truly became a cultural phenomenon after it was first televised in 1955. That year the whole nation, it seemed, watched California's Lee Meriwether take the crown. Also check out the articles, USA TODAY.com - Miss America pageant moving to Las Vegas.