May 14, 2013 8:56 am
Today, Angelina Jolie announced that she has decided to have a preventive double mastectomy, after testing positive for the BRCA1 gene implicated in increasing the risk of breast cancer in women. Her decision is a drastic one, but she’s not the only woman to have both breasts removed before any sign of cancer. While the procedure is still rare, rates of preventive double mastectomies are on the rise. But no one is quite sure what’s driving these increasing rates, and doctors disagree about the benefits of the procedure.
Jolie joins a few celebrities who have had the procedure. Sharon Osbourne had her breasts removed last year. Miss America contestant Allyn Rose said in January that she would have hers removed once the contest was over. In 2006, the then 23-year-old Lindsay Avner became one of the first women to undergo the procedure to avoid breast cancer. A study from last year reported that the rate of these surgeries—which remove breasts before cancer is found—is on the rise. In 2002, 94 women in Pennsylvania had preventative surgery. In 2012 that number was 455. (These number include both women who had two seemingly healthy breasts removed and women who had one healthy breast removed after a diagnosis of cancer in the other.) The Journal of Clinical Oncology found that bilateral mastectomies—in which a woman with cancer in one breast has both removed—increased from 1.8 percent in 1998 to 4.8 percent in 2003.
It’s hard to track these sorts of things, though. There is no good nationwide data on exactly how many are done each year and how that number has changed from year to year. But doctors generally agree that the rate is increasing.
The reasons for that increase are also slippery. Easier and cheaper genetic testing is providing more women with the information that often spurs the procedure. And surgeries to remove the breasts are getting safer and less expensive, as are plastic surgeries to replace tissue or minimize scarring.
The women who opt for the surgery cite a few reasons. The first is the real risk of breast cancer. Angelina Jolie, in her opinion piece for the New York Times, says that “doctors estimated that I had an 87 percent risk of breast cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer.”
The second is peace of mind. Women living with the gene say they feel as though cancer is looming over them at all times. “There wasn’t a minute where it didn’t cross my mind in some way,” Sara Tenenbein wrote in XO Jane. “BRCA was taking over my entire life.” Tenenbein opted for the preventive double mastectomy. She knows her choice was unusual, but she doesn’t regret it. “I know that I chose something extreme in order to live without fear. I chosejoie de vivre over vanity, and I am proud of it,” she writes.
“A lot of women really feel that it’s liberating,” Jocelyn Dunn, a breast surgeon in Palo Alto, California, told the Daily Beast. “Regrets are rare.” But peace of mind has a dark side, too. The Daily Beast also talked to Stephen Sener, a doctor and former president of the American Cancer Society. “The main motivation is fear. Some women say, ‘I can’t live with the anxiety of having this happen again’.” The opening of a 2007 story about another woman who chose the surgery reads: “Her latest mammogram was clean. But Deborah Lindner, 33, was tired of constantly looking for the lump.”
But doctors say that there’s also a problem in risk perception. Only 5-10 percent of the women who get breast cancer are positive for the “breast cancer genes.” Women with the genes have a 60 percent chance of getting breast cancer. But having the double mastectomy doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be cancer free, either. One study found that the procedure doesn’t work for all women. The study looked at women who have preventive mastectomies after being diagnosed with cancer in one breast and found that the procedure only seemed to help women under 50 whose cancer was in very early stages. Another study that looked at preventive mastectomies says that, while the procedure does reduce the risk of developing breast cancer, “there is conflicting evidence on whether or not it reduces breast cancer mortality or overall death.”
While the research is still out on how effective it is, women who have the BRCA1 gene or a family history of breast cancer might see people like Jolie and Osbourne as examples. Removing both breasts might seem drastic, but it can feel worth it to those who have watched a loved one die of cancer. But that fear and dread could be pushing women to make decisions that aren’t medically sound. Allyn Rose, the Miss America contestant, says her father suggested the procedure, and when she pushed back he told her that, if she didn’t do it, “you’re going to end up dead like your mom.”
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May 10, 2013 11:44 am
There Are Just Three Males of This Endangered Fish Left, And the London Zoo Is on a Global Hunt to Find a Lady
There are just three Mangarahara cichlids left in the world, so far as we know, and they’re all men. Two are at in the London Zoo, one is in Germany at the Berlin Zoo. The species was wiped out in the wild when the Mangarahara River in Madagascar dried up because of dams built to block the river, says the Associated Press.
The Berlin Zoo used to have a female, but she has unfortunately passed away, along with the best chance to revive the species in captivity. Now, the Zoological Society of London says in a release, they’re on a global quest to find a lady friend for their male cichlids. If you or anyone you know has one in a fish tank somewhere, they would really, really like to hear from you.
Launching the appeal, ZSL London Zoo’s Brian Zimmerman said: “The Mangarahara cichlid is shockingly and devastatingly facing extinction; its wild habitat no longer exists and as far as we can tell, only three males remain of this entire species.
“It might be too late for their wild counterparts, but if we can find a female, it’s not too late for the species. Here at ZSL London Zoo we have two healthy males, as well as the facilities and expertise to make a real difference.
If a female can’t be found, this wouldn’t be the first time we’ve had to sit idly by and watch a the last of a species wait out its final end. Just recently, Lonesome George, the last Pinta Island tortoise, passed away. And botanical gardens around the world feature the identical faces of the last E. woodii, each of them a clone of the same male plant.
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May 9, 2013 2:11 pm
Technically, this partial solar eclipse—which will produce this stunning “ring of fire”— will occur as the early morning Sun rises on Friday in Australia. But for those of us in North America, the spectacle will play out this evening starting around 6:30 pm on the East coast.
If you’re in Australia or the Philippines, enjoy the show. But if you’re not and still want to watch, you can tune in to the Slooh Space Camera to watch the whole thing live.
This is only a partial solar eclipse, so there will still be a bit of bright sun poking around the dusk of the Moon. This is what gives it the moniker “ring of fire.” For an idea of what you’re in for if you decide to turn into the Slooh feed, here is a video shot during last year’s similar eclipse.
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May 7, 2013 3:05 pm
Producer and animator Ray Harryhausen, who invented a kind of stop motion model animation called ‘dynamation’ and created special effects for classics such as Jason and the Argonauts and One Million Years B.C., died today, NPR reports.
A Facebook page managed by the Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation broke the news two hours earlier today that Harryhausen passed away in London at the age of 92. Already, thousands of fans have responded, including the likes of directors Peter Jackson, Steven Spielberg and others. James Cameron commented, “I think all of us who are practioners in the arts of science fiction and fantasy movies now all feel that we’re standing on the shoulders of a giant. If not for Ray’s contribution to the collective dreamscape, we wouldn’t be who we are.”
George Lucas said simply, “Without Ray Harryhausen, there would likely have been no Star Wars.”
Harryhausen began working in stop motion after seeing and being inspired by King Kong in 1933. He began experimenting with animated short films using stop motion, getting his break in 1949 with Mighty Joe Young. The film took home the Academy Award for Best Special Effects later that year. From there, Harryhausen blazed a career producing and directing visual effects for just under two dozen films. The last movie he made was Clash of the Titans, in 1981.
Here, Harryhausen talks about his work in a 1974 interview:
And here is a collection of Harryhausen’s greatest stop motion animation creations:
And here, one of his most famous scenes – the skeleton fight from Jason and the Argonauts:
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May 3, 2013 3:29 pm
This weekend, fans will gather for the 138th annual Kentucky Derby, North America’s favorite horse racing event. Fans will place bets for the likes of Black Onyx, Oxbow and Frac Daddy and cheer on the horses and their jockeys as they gallop around the track. But watching the races and enjoying the spring weather aren’t the Derby’s only draws. Traditional also calls for bountiful cups of icy mint juleps sipped alongside a hearty bowl of burgoo, a Kentucky favorite often served at the event.
In the mid-19th century, Kentucky’s Henry Clay was no stranger to the delights of the mint julep. The University of Kentucky provides a favorite recipe, straight out of Clay’s diary—the words of a true disciple of the drink:
The mint leaves, fresh and tender, should be pressed against a coin-silver goblet with the back of a silver spoon. Only bruise the leaves gently and then remove them from the goblet. Half fill with cracked ice. Mellow bourbon, aged in oaken barrels, is poured from the jigger and allowed to slide slowly through the cracked ice.
In another receptacle, granulated sugar is slowly mixed into chilled limestone water to make a silvery mixture as smooth as some rare Egyptian oil, then poured on top of the ice. While beads of moisture gather on the burnished exterior of the silver goblet, garnish the brim of the goblet with the choicest sprigs of mint.
As for burgoo, it’s a spicy stew made of beef, chicken, pork and veggies. Back in Clay’s days, however, burgoo could include a bit of whatever animal happened to be around, including venison, raccoon, squirrel, opossum or wild birds. That’s probably how it earned the appetizing nickname of “roadkill soup.”
While wild animals are probably lacking in most pots of burgoo today, each restaurant’s offerings do provide a unique culinary experience since no two places use the exact same blend of spices and ingredients. If you’d like to try and concoct your very own spin on burgoo, Epicurious has a recipe for Kentucky bourbon burgoo, or take your pick from the many other versions on offer.
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