I have many patients who upon discovering that they carry a BRCA gene mutation consider bilateral breast mastectomies. But the BRCA genes also carry increased risk of multiple cancers, from pancreatic to melanoma, and other diseases, so you can’t have a total body-ectomy.
But you can put your baby to your breast.
Two studies support that breastfeeding protects against breast cancer if the mother has BRCA1, but not if she has BRCA2, in fact having children increases the risk in women with the BRCA2 genetic mutation.
The lack of protection for carriers of the BRCA2 mutation suggests that the biological pathway for formation of cancer is different between the two genes.
We have historically known that the more differentiated tissues are, the more resilient they are to cancer. When a breast changes from a fatty gland to a milk machine, which occurs during breastfeeding, the breast is now said to have become differentiated, it gets a job description. This gives the tissues stability and protection.
And now we see that it even does this to a degree, even in face of one of the BRCA genes.
Nature often rewards us for carrying on the metronomic beat of life—being born, giving birth. As we change the timing of these milestones, or even if we choose to not have children at all, there is often a response from Mother Nature where she puts us slightly more at risk for not following the age-old cycle of birth and rebirth.
But some of us, like me, couldn’t have children. My books are my children, but they haven’t differentiated my boobs.
We do what we can.
Chop wood, carry water. (Breast Cancer Research 2012)