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Oct 18, 2011 | On Being Positive

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Lynne Tapper

I am a lifelong endurance athlete with the dual goal of training and racing until my bones turn to dust and sharing that passion with as many people as possible.

Today’s post is in honor of my husband Leland on our 13th wedding anniversary.  And they said it wouldn’t last.

Tomorrow I am joining a panel discussion at ESPN on Breast Cancer Awareness for their employees.  It is a long (irrelevant) story as to how  I ended up being a part of this panel.  I’m looking forward to sharing my story and in turn, letting more people know about the “lesser known” status of being a previvor.  As I prepare my 2 minute opening remarks, I decided to do a little research.  While, I can rattle off the statistics of what my increased risks are for both breast and ovarian cancer, there is still a lot that I don’t know.  So, I took a few moments this morning to see what I could dig up.  I thought I’d share the fruits of my research in the following bite-sized nuggets.

An elite club?
BRCA gene mutation is rare. Only about .2 percent (2 tenths of one percent) of Americans carry a BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 mutation. That means that 1 out of every 500 Americans have this gene mutation.

Research has shown that Ashkenazi Jewish women (Jewish women of Eastern European, German, Polish or Russian descent) have a higher incidence of carrying a BRCA gene mutation than do women of other backgrounds. According to the research, one in forty Ashkenazi Jewish women (2.65 percent) carry a BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 gene mutation This is compared to one in five hundred — two tenths of one percent — as I mentioned above.  So, it really is an elite club.  To quote Groucho Marx, “I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.”  In this matter, I have no choice.

However that research also indicates that only 7% of Breast Cancer in Ashkenazi women is due to BRCA mutations.  The vast majority of their Breast Cancer is not due to mutated BRCA genes.

Which leads me to this thought:

Is it a Positive that you’re Negative?
The knowledge that you don’t carry a BRCA gene mutation does not give you any information that is useful because, as we’ve seen, ninety (90) percent of Breast Cancer patients do not carry the mutation. On the other hand, discovering that you do carry a BRCA mutation can help you make decisions about your health care.

So, I was thinking…

Why is it good to have 2 working genes?
The BRCA genes belong to a class of human genes known as ‘Tumor Suppressors’ that, when working properly, produce specific proteins that suppress abnormal cell growth. ‘Abnormal’ cell growth is at the root of all cancers. When the BRCA genes are healthy, they suppress the growth of certain cancerous cells – Breast Cancer and Ovarian Cancer cells in particular.   When these genes are not functioning properly, when they have mutated, their tumor suppressing abilities are turned off.
Which leads to…

The 20-100-40 Rule
Twenty (20) out of every one hundred (100) women who carry a mutated BRCA gene will develop Breast Cancer by the time they are forty (40) years old. Okay, I passed that one, now that I’m 45! But the risks get greater as I age. Fifty-one (51) out of one hundred (100) women with a mutated BRCA gene will develop Breast Cancer by the time they are fifty (50) years old and eighty-five (85) out of one hundred (100) women with the mutation will be diagnosed with Breast Cancer by the time they reach the age of sixty (60).

85%! Those are amazing odds! To quote the medical oncologist I consulted with this past January, “you’d play those odd at Vegas, no?”

It’s a numbers game.  You have to do what makes you comfortable.  You can play the odds or you can take control.  I’m choosing control.

Information gathered from


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