Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Celebrity Math

I've never seen Angelina Jolie's boobs in the wild, and unless you're Brad Pitt, neither of us has any personal interest in them either. Those facts aside, today's announcement about how "brave" she was for undergoing unnecessary double mastectomies only points out how people who can't count can still have a lot of impact.

(For instance, Google Al Gore's impact on the global warming debate, despite decades of cooked statistics.)

But the widely quoted witchdoctory quote du jour is that the gene she had gave her "an 87% chance of developing breast cancer". 9 out of 10 is scary, but 87 out of 100, or the 25,000,000 women who won't get breast CA out of 150M women in this country even if they all had this gene is far less so.

To be fair, I haven't seen the literature the quote is drawn from, and hopefully based on. One hopes it's some amount better than the math they used to count attendees at the Million Man March some years back.

But let's consider a few things. The overwhelming number of women tested for the gene have probably been women who already have breast CA. Which kind of screws your sample pool. I'd like to hear how many women out of the entire population have the special gene involved, and then I'd like to know how many of them, untreated, and controlling for all other risk factors (obesity, smoking, use of contraceptives, etc.) got breast CA. And I'd also like to know what risk factors Ms. Jolie's mother had, since her death from ovarian cancer (which supposedly this gene makes a 50/50 split also) was a lot of what Jolie cited for having two perfectly healthy breasts mutilated.

If, for example, 87% of women at large have the gene, and they all get breast CA at exactly normal rates, then there's your "87% chance" turned to nonsense. So without further citations, until I hear of multiple high-sample-number double-blind peer-reveiwed studies, I'm calling shenanigans.

Then there are the risks of surgery, which in this case are tripled, because her situation required multiple procedures.

And finally, while she (or more correctly, her publicists) are cock-a-doodle-dooing about her courage, and try to make her Everywoman by advocating that everyone else consider following her lead, her surgeries, rough guess, are $50-100K worth of medical procedures (which, let's recall, were to remove perfectly healthy tissue from a healthy woman) that would have paid for her to get not annual, but monthly mammograms for 21 years. And a nearly 100% shot at early cancer detection. Granted, the increased radiation dose adds to her risk, but detecting the cancer she assumed was coming is virtually guaranteed, so that's a wash. And factor in that the amount of time she spends in private jets at altitude probably gives her the same increase in radiation (and subsequent cancer risk) as a pack-a-day smoker. So she could have saved her breasts, her wallet, and the planet by taking a limo more often, or just staying home.

In short, what you've got is an under-educated hypochondriac multi-millionaire, who's personal press corps has found a way to spin her middle-aged boob job into a crusade for humanity. And she still gets to keep the teenage-looking boobs.

The only possible good I see coming out of this, is if it leads to similar tests for men, and people like Bill Maher, Jon Stewart, Michael Moore, and the feministas on The Spew to all have their gonads hacked out before any of them breed.

The only other actual good is to the AMA, particularly to the plastic surgery industry, which is either paying Ms. Jolie for her current publicity blitz, or ought to be.

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