I get this question almost daily from my breast cancer patients. People are understandably confused. As is the case with other foods, as research evolves, there are changing messages disseminated about their impact on health matters.
So, what information compels you to make decisions in life? The story about soy is the story about the evolution of knowledge about diet and cancer in general, as they say, and here is the rest of the story.
The earliest studies in the 70’s and 80’s indicated that Asian women had lower breast cancer risk than European and American women. It turns out that many things about the life and culture of Asian women are different beyond their diets. The early thinking about possible connections to lower cancer risk focused on low fat intake and soy. Many in the research community advocated lowering dietary fat and increasing soy intake to reduce breast cancer risk and improve survival. Thus was born a wave of enthusiasm for all things soy.
The recent news about Angelina Jolie and her bilateral prophylactic mastectomy has brought renewed attention to the high risk of women with BRCA gene mutations of both breast and ovarian cancer.
I would agree that Jolie’s decision to undergo surgery was a reasonable choice. It is well documented that bilateral mastectomy is one of the most effective ways to limit the risk of and mortality from breast cancer in women with a BRCA gene mutation, particularly when performed before the age of forty.
However, that’s not all there is to it. While family history can be an important indicator of breast cancer risk, there’s a critical point that often gets overlooked. Jolie’s situation and its extensive coverage have presented a tremendous opportunity for the medical establishment and Jolie to address a commonly held misconception that has potentially dangerous consequences – that the leading risk factor for breast cancer is a gene mutation resulting in a hereditary predisposition to cancer.