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Breast Cancer Health Center

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Christina Applegate Seeks Early Detection for Breast Cancer

Inspired by her own battle with cancer, the actress fights to help young women at high risk for the disease.

Right Action for Women continued...

"When I was able to find my cancer in the stage I did, my passion for wanting to do something for these women was beyond what I could express," she says. The past two years have been a big fundraising push for RAW -- and now, at last, the foundation has reached the point where it can start to offer fully funded MRIs for high-risk young women on a small scale at a handful of hospitals in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.

"We're starting small, but we want to go national," Applegate says. "We'd also like to start working with places that will offer these women a certain number of MRIs for free." This service is especially welcome, says Applegate, "because screening MRIs are about $3,000 each!"

Breast Cancer Early Detection

Another goal for RAW is support for genetic testing and counseling for women who may have genetic mutations that raise their risk for breast cancer, such as the BRCA1 mutation Applegate has. "Genetic testing and counseling can be very expensive and are often not covered by insurance, but having that information can radically change how you're treated. Finding out I was BRCA-positive made my choice about treatment very different," says Applegate, who had a bilateral mastectomy (both breasts removed).

After the cancer was initially diagnosed, Applegate first had two lumpectomies. Only after those surgeries did she receive the results of her genetic testing. "I went in and talked to my doctor, and at first I was very against the idea of mastectomy. I cried and said there's no way in hell I'm doing this. Then it just hit me: I had a chance of recurrence that was way above 50%. I didn't want to live with that fear for the rest of my life, so I came to terms with it, and we went ahead and decided to take both off."

Applegate's decision was an understandable one, says Eric Winer, MD, director of the Breast Oncology Center and chief of the division of women's cancers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. "We know that women who have a mutation and have a first breast cancer are at substantially increased risk of cancer in the other breast. She could have chosen other options, but I think for a woman in her situation, this is the approach that would give her the least likelihood of a subsequent problem." On the other hand, women who have "sporadic" cancers -- those that are not linked to a known cancer-causing mutation -- do not appear to reap any long-term survival benefit from "prophylactic" double mastectomies, Winer says.

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