Can cancer genes be turned on or off? In an interview for AARP Magazine by ‘Pop’ singer, Melissa Etheridge implied that genes for cancer (BRCA1 and BRCA2) can be turned on or off by diet. Her fallacious statements have caused an outcry by physicians, genetic counselors, cancer survivors and support groups for women with the genetic mutation.
Everyone is born with two copies of genes called BRCA1 and BRCA2, but those with a mutation in one of these genes are much more susceptible to breast and ovarian cancer. In fact the lifetime risk of developing one of these deadly cancers is over 85%. While good diet and exercise are beneficial to health, neither will make up for lacking a copy of the gene involved in preventing cancer development. Testing for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations can be life saving by enabling heightened screening with Breast MRIs and mammograms and even as another celebrity, Angelina Jolie, advocated, double mastectomies and surgery to remove their ovaries and fallopian tubes. In women who are not ready for children, oocyte freezing (vitrification) is a viable option to potentially preserve future fertility. Embryo testing involving Pre-Implantation Genetic (PGD) is also possible to select an embryo for transfer that is less likely to carry these potentially lethal genetic mutations.