(NEW YORK) — Singer and breast cancer survivor Melissa Etheridge is standing by her comments that actress Angelia Jolie was “fearful” and not “brave” for undergoing a double mastectomy to avoid breast cancer.
“I don’t have any opinion of what she ‘should have’ done. All are free to choose. I only objected to the term ‘brave’ describing it,” Etheridge said in a statement to ABC News.
Last week, Etheridge told the Washington Blade that Jolie “made the most fearful choice you can make when confronting anything with cancer.”
“My belief is that cancer comes from inside you and so much of it has to do with the environment of your body,” Etheridge told the newspaper.
Etheridge, who was diagnosed with the same high risk BRCA gene mutation as Jolie, goes on in the interview to say that Jolie’s choice is “… way down the line on the spectrum of what you can do” and that those faced with the same set of facts should “really consider the advancements we’ve made in things like nutrition and stress levels.”
Andrea Geduld, the director of the Breast Health Resource Center at Mt. Sinai Hospital said she believed that Etheridge’s comments were out of line.
“Is she saying it’s better to confront cancer? We don’t have clear prevention strategies for this type of cancer, we only have risk reducing strategies including mastectomy, oophorectomy and high risk surveillance,” Geduld said.
She said she finds Etheridge’s criticism of Jolie puzzling, given that Jolie’s choice to have a double mastectomy couldn’t have been an easy one and didn’t appear to be a stunt or political act.
“A lot of people make this same decision to reduce the fear and anxiety that comes with having the high risk of cancer hanging over their heads,” Geduld said. “We wouldn’t criticize someone for wearing a seatbelt to reduce the risk of dying in an accident, so I’m not sure why we would criticize someone for having a mastectomy when we know it cuts their risk of getting cancer.”
Women who test positive for a BRCA gene mutation and who have a strong family history of cancer have an 85 percent of getting breast cancer and a 40 percent of getting ovarian cancer at some point in their lives. Having a mastectomy and ovaries removed reduces the chances of developing the disease to around 5 percent.
Experts also caution that some of Etheridge’s statements aren’t accurate.
“We do know that diet and nutrition play an important role in cancer prevention and survival but they appear to be more helpful for people with non-genetic cancers rather than people who are at high risk for genetic cancers,” said Dr. Julie Silver, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School who specializes in cancer rehabilitation and is a breast cancer survivor herself.
Silver said there is literally no scientific evidence that diet, exercise or stress reduction would help a woman fitting Jolie’s genetic profile avoid the disease.
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