Is prevention better than the cure?

Angelina Jolie

Photo from the Press Association

You hear a lot of talk these days from people complaining that medical advances simply add to the stress of life by giving us yet more things to worry about. Pregnant women are offered too many scans too early or too late. Our children are given too many intrusive tests to check whether they’re over-eating or under-achieving, and every week ushers in a new dietary health scare.

Denial can be a wonderful thing – and I speak as the daughter of a confirmed head-in-the-sand ostrich. My mother really believed that what she didn’t know couldn’t hurt her. She dreaded every appointment with a GP or optician in case they gave her bad news. If medics couldn’t think of anything nice to say, she preferred that they didn’t say anything at all.

Then along comes someone who puts all our fears and doubts into perspective by grabbing doctors by the lapels and forcing them to give it to her straight. So here’s to the beautiful, brave and irrepressibly clear-eyed Angelina Jolie, who announced yesterday that she took the decision to lower her odds of developing cancer by having a double mastectomy.

Having watched her mother die of the disease at the age of 56 and, after consulting doctors, discovering that her own genetic make-up meant that, without intervention, her chances of contracting breast cancer was undeniably high, she decided to make this huge, pre-emptive strike. No head-in-the-sand, statistic-ignoring behaviour for this modern-day cancer warrior.

I usually hate it when people describe cancer in terms of a battle to be won or an enemy to be overcome – it gives the impression that somehow courage, strength of will or determination can actually protect you from something that is simply a physical disease. But sometimes, courage can change things. Facing things and taking action is usually a good idea. Of course doctors don’t have all the answers. And sometimes the answers haven’t been worked out yet. The longer we live, the more we know and there’s always the hope that medical advances might mean such drastic action may not be necessary in the future. But usually they do know what they are talking about. According to Ms Jolie, her chances of developing cancer have now dropped from a terrifyingly inevitable sounding 87% to below 5%. I for one salute her courage and determination to face her individual situation head on.

Posted by Amanda Blinkhorn

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