When Angelina Jolie opted to have a double mastectomy as a preemptive move against breast cancer, it seemed shocking (see the interview with Dr Kristi Funk, Angelina’s doctor, on page 26
– she has some fascinating things to say about diet). The point is that she made the right decision for her given her family history and genetic blueprint, although it may not have been the right decision for someone else… There are just so many variables.
The future of medicine is becoming increasingly personal, which is excellent news. Being able to target disease more directly has to be better than the current spatter-gun approach, which sometimes seems to do as much harm as it does good.
In June this year, researchers shared positive results from an experimental therapy that had extracted and multiplied immunesystem cells from a 49-year-old woman before infusing them back into her. The treatment she received could not have been more specific – it was her own immune system fighting back, just massively bolstered by lab-replicated cells.
‘It’s as highly personalised as a treatment can be,’ says Dr Steven Rosenberg of the US National Cancer Institute. ‘We are creating a new drug for every patient, targeting the unique mutations in that person’s cancer.’ The patient has been cancer-free for two and a half years since, and although the method is still in the trial phase, it’s really good to know such groundbreaking advances are being made.
Even so, the single best thing we can do about breast cancer is to detect it early. October is the month we remind ourselves of that, but we should be checking ourselves all the time. So I’m going to say, as I do every October: put this magazine down right now. Then put your hands on your breasts and check for anything unusual. Have regular mammograms if you’re in that age bracket. And make sure your friends and loved ones are doing it too.
We’ll beat breast cancer in the end, but it will be much easier if we think about it for more than just one month of the year!