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05192013-1When you think of Angelina Jolie, what comes to mind? Jolie is often in the news attending red carpet events, promoting movies, and traveling as a United Nations representative. On May 14, Angelina Jolie made headlines across the country for a different reason. The New York Times published an op-ed piece written by Jolie in which she revealed that she had a double mastectomy.  Read her op-ed, My Medical Choice, to learn about the reasons for her decision.

05192013-2A successful and pervasive public relations campaign has increased awareness of—and concern about—breast cancer. Peptol-bismol pink ribbons, the color of the breast cancer campaign, adorn everything from t-shirts to toasters. Breast cancer has come out of the shadows. But awareness is not the same as knowledge. Despite the public relations frenzy, how much do you know about breast cancer—its symptoms, statistics, and treatment options? What questions do you have? Follow Jolie’s lead and learn more about breast cancer. You can do this by visiting three sites: Medline Plus and PBS, and the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

Breast Cancer: In Depth


Understanding breast cancer begins by understanding what cancer is. Visit the Medline Plus slideshow and watch the Introduction and first section, Cancer and its Causes. Occasionally, there are quiz questions. Click to enter and check your answer. Hop over to PBS to learn more about how cancer grows and spreads. Launch the interactive (and read the narrative) to see how a normal cell mutates and eventually metastasizes. What triggers cancer to develop? Part of the answer lies in genetics, the other part lies in epigenetics. Learn more about epigenetics; revisit PBS and read an interview with Dr. Issa.

05192013-8In the next section of the Medline Plus slideshow, discover more about breast anatomy. Continue watching the interactive to find out the signs and symptoms of breast cancer. What is a biopsy? How does it help diagnose breast cancer? What are the different types of biopsies? What other procedures are used to diagnose breast cancer? To answer these questions, watch the Biopsy and Diagnosis sections. Finally, learn more about treatment options, including surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Watch the sections on Surgery and Treatment Options. Return to the PBS site and watch the short video Chemotherapy and Breast Cancer to see how genetic tests are changing traditional treatment plans.

Breast Cancer's Big Question: Who?

The Medline Plus and PBS sites provide the information you need to understand breast anatomy and breast cancer. They do not answer the obvious and burning question: who is most at risk? For information about risk factors, turn to the organization dedicated to promoting awareness of breast cancer: the Susan G. Komen Foundation. The Komen website offers an extensive array of resources about breast cancer, including statistics, diagnosis, care, treatment, and recovery.

05192013-4Who is most likely to develop breast cancer? What are the risk factors for breast cancer? Which lifestyle habits increase or decrease the risk of breast cancer? How common is the BRAC-1 mutation that Jolie has? Can men get breast cancer? Why is a double mastectomy an option for BRAC-1 carriers but less so for other women? What is known about the non-genetic causes of breast cancer? Watch the Komen Foundation’s Breast Cancer 101. Watch the first four chapters: Incidence and Risk Factors, Genetics and Breast Cancer, Breast Self-Awareness, Living a Healthy Lifestyle, and Special Populations. (You can track your progress using the two black bars in the upper left corner. The chapter title is displayed in the top black bar. The section is in the lower black box. When you reach Special Populations, End of Section, you are done.) Consider the chapter titles and add your own questions to the list. As you watch, gather information that will allow you to answer the questions listed above as well the questions you added.

05192013-6 The Komen Foundation site is a rich repository of information for patients, families, and survivors. Peruse the other topics in the list of interactive tools (right column)  and the list of topics along the left margin. Which interest you most? Where might you find answers to still unanswered questions? Take the Keeping It Real Quiz to test your understanding of breast cancer. Finally, visit Rhode Island’s news station WPRI and take a risk factor quiz

What Would You Do?

05192013-7After considering her family history, Angelina Jolie decided to take the test for the BRAC-1 mutation. She felt it was the right decision for her. Genetic tests present sometimes complicated ethical choices. Consider how you feel about four scenarios. These scenarios would likely make for a rich and lively discussion.