Article: What “The Truth About Cancer” got wrong about BRCA mutations and cancer

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Contents

Epigenics                  Inherited mutations
How genes work               Guidelines                
Epigenics and Resources

 

Epigenics

 

TACGQ video

The video’s argument centers on epigenetics, which is explained as something that acts on your genes.  The analogy given in the video is, “Your genetics is your software and something has to open it up and read it.” Further discussion states how epigenetics allows you to turn your genes on and off.

Science

Epigenetics is an active area of biology research that studies how genes can be switched “on” and “off” by external factors. Genes are the instructions used by your body’s cells to make proteins and other molecules that carry out cellular work. Cells have many ways to control genes (or turn them on and off)—it is neither efficient or desirable to have every possible protein made all of the time.  If an external factor prevents the gene from making the protein, one can say the gene is “turned off.” However, this does not apply to deleterious gene mutations because the issue is not whether or not the gene is “turned on or off.” Rather, the issue is that these mutations are incorrect instructions.

Regardless of epigenetics, mutated genes CANNOT make a proper protein because the instructions to make it are wrong from the start. Turning a mutated gene “on” or “off” does not affect cancer risk. If a light bulb has no conductive wires, flipping the switch will not turn the light on; conversely, switching it off will not work either—nothing will change because the light bulb remains damaged and lacks the necessary components to function. That is why an epigenetic external factor cannot turn a mutated gene on and off—the gene is already broken and no external influence can manipulate it so that it works again.

TACGQ video:

Claiming that doctors would like you to believe that cancer is genetic and arises from a genetic predisposition, the video states, “Let’s say that your body and your genetics is the computer. That is the hardware. The epigenetics is the software. The software runs the hardware. What we need to do is not dwell on the genetics, but the epigenetics.” But this claim is incorrect and untrue.

Science:

All cancer is considered genetic because It is caused by damage to genes that are either inherited or occur with age. When the genes that control cell growth and division are damaged, cells no longer have instructions to control their growth, and these errors sometimes cause the cells to become cancerous.  If you apply the video’s analogy to people with mutations, the software cannot control the hardware if the hardware is already broken.

How genes work
 

TACGQ video:

The video also says that genes do not control life. It states that you can activate and deactivate genes, and that if you deactivate your genes with a healthy lifestyle, you do not get cancer.

Science:

Our genes do control life. Our environment, including lifestyle, can affect when genes are turned on and off, but ultimately it is the combination of our genetics AND our environment that have ultimate influence. External environmental factors affect our genes, but cannot change a malfunctioning gene into one that functions properly. While it is important to live a healthy lifestyle, that does not automatically deactivate “bad” genes or activate “good ones.”

Epigenics and mutations


TACGQ video:

The video says that our epigenetic influences turn genes on and off, so you don’t have to worry about the genes you inherit from your parents.

Science:

Inherited mutations are present in every cell of the body and cannot be turned on and off by environmental factors.

TACGQ video:

The video claims that the way women live their lives will alter their mutations.

Science:

Drinking alcohol and obesity are risk factors for breast cancer, while exercise is a protective factor, both for people who do and do not have mutations. Although unhealthy habits may increase risk, healthy habits do not eliminate anyone’s risk of breast cancer. Avoiding alcohol and getting enough exercise does not affect the mutation itself, and currently, we have no convincing evidence that diet, exercise, or other lifestyle choices will significantly change the cancer risk for a person with a mutation.  However, healthy lifestyle choices can improve quality of life for cancer survivors and those at high risk for cancer.

Inherited mutations


TACGQ Video:

The video avoids answering the question about whether mutations can be inherited, and instead talks about how we can turn genes on and off depending on what we eat and how well we sleep.

Science:

mutations are inherited. Fathers and mothers who carry a mutation have a 50 percent chance of passing it along to each of their children.

It is important to note that none of the people who provided information for the video are medical oncologists. Ultimately, “The Truth About Cancer: A Global Quest” is full of misleading information that is not grounded in science. This type of misinformation is dangerous, because it may lead high-risk women to drawing incorrect and dangerous conclusions about their ability to prevent cancer through healthy lifestyle alone.

A healthy lifestyle, diet, and exercises are beneficial to everyone—cancer survivors, previvors, and those of average cancer risk.  However, the cancer risk for people who have mutations in or other genes associated with is greatly increased. National guidelines outline screening and risk management options.  If you have a mutation, or you are concerned that your cancer or the cancer in your family is hereditary, please discuss your risk management options with your health care provider. 

References

The Truth About Cancer website (note: access to the documentary requires registration). 

Posted 11/10/15

This article is relevant for:

Because this video is full of medical misinformation, it is not relevant for anyone making healthcare decisions

This article is also relevant for:

Previvors

People with a genetic mutation linked to cancer risk

Breast cancer survivors

Women under 45

Women over 45

Be part of XRAY:

Expert Guidelines Expert Guidelines

NCCN guidelines recommend genetic counseling and testing for people without cancer who have the following family history:

  • A relative who has tested positive for an inherited mutation in a gene that increases cancer risk.
  • One or more first- or second-degree relatives with breast cancer and any of the following:
    • diagnosed at age 45 or younger
    • two separate breast cancers, with the first diagnosis at age 50 or younger
    • male breast cancer
  • One or more first- or second-degree relatives with:
    • colorectal cancer before age 50
    • endometrial cancer before age 50
    • ovarian, , primary peritoneal cancer
    • rare or childhood cancers
  • One or more first-degree relatives with:
    • or high-grade cancer
    • pancreatic cancer
  • Two or more relatives on the same side of the family diagnosed with any combination of the following at any age:
    • breast cancer
    • pancreatic cancer
    • cancer
    • melanoma
    • sarcoma
    • adrenal cancer
    • brain tumors
    • leukemia
    • endometrial cancer
    • thyroid cancer
    • kidney cancer
    • diffuse gastric cancer
    • colon cancer

Updated: 12/04/2021

Expert Guidelines Expert Guidelines

The American Cancer Society (ACS) guidelines on exercise, nutrition and weight for cancer prevention recommend the following: 

Diet and nutrition

  • Follow a healthy eating pattern, which includes:
    • foods that are high in nutrients in amounts that help you get to and stay at a healthy body weight.
    • a variety of vegetables, fiber-rich legumes (beans and peas), and whole fruits in a variety of colors. ACS recommends people consume at least 2½ to 3 cups of vegetables and 1½ to 2 cups of fruit each day, depending on your calorie requirements. 
    • whole grains rather than refined grains. ACS recommends that at least ½ of your grain consumption consists of whole grains. 
  • A healthy eating pattern limits or does not include:
    • red and processed meats.
    • sugar-sweetened beverages. 
    • highly processed foods and refined grain products.
  • It is best not to drink alcohol. People who do choose to drink alcohol should:
    • have no more than 1 drink per day for women or 2 drinks per day for men.

Exercise

  • Exercise regularly.
    • Adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity (equal to a brisk walk) or 75 minutes of vigorous activity (makes your heartbeat and breathing faster and makes you sweat) each week, preferably spread throughout the week.
    • Physical activity has been shown to lower the risk of several types of cancer, including breast, endometrial, and colon cancer. It also reduces the risk of other serious diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.

Weight

  • Get to and stay at a healthy weight.
    • Being overweight or obese is a risk factor for many cancers, including breast, colon, endometrial and pancreatic cancer. You can control your weight through regular exercise and healthy eating.

Other experts, including the following, also provide guidelines for exercise, nutrition and health: 

Updated: 02/06/2022

Questions to Ask Questions to Ask Your Doctor

  • Should I have genetic testing for an inherited mutation?
  • Can my diet and lifestyle help me prevent cancer?
  • What else can I do to lower my risk for cancer?

Find Experts Find Experts

Health care providers who are specially trained in genetics can help you more clearly understand your risk for . The following resources can help you locate a genetics expert in your area.

  • The National Society of Genetic Counselor website offers a searchable directory for finding a genetic counselor by state and specialty. To find a genetic counselor who specializes in cancer genetics, choose "cancer" under the options "Area of Practice/Specialization." 
  • InformedDNA is a network of board-certified genetic counselors providing this service by telephone. They can also help you find a qualified expert in your area for face-to-face genetic counseling if that is your preference. 
  • JScreen is a national program based out of Emory University that provides low-cost at-home genetic counseling and testing with financial assistance available.
  • Grey Genetics provides access to genetic counselors who offer genetic counseling by telephone. 
  • The Genetic Support Foundation offers genetic counseling with board-certified genetic counselors. 
  • FORCE's toll-free helpline at: 866-288-RISK, ext. 704 will connect you with a volunteer board-certified genetic counselor who can answer general questions about genetic testing and cancer and help you find a genetics expert near you. 
  • FORCE Peer Navigator Program will match you with a volunteer who has undergone genetic counseling and can help you navigate resources to find a genetic counselor near you.
  • Ask your doctor for a referral to a genetics expert. 

Updated: 03/16/2022

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