This summer I joined a small but growing number of women who have chosen preventative surgery for breast cancer. I elected to undergo prophylactic removal of my breasts and ovaries. Why in the world would someone do this? I have seen too many women deal with the ravaging physical and emotional aspects of this disease. In particular, watching my sisters go through chemotherapy, radiation and surgeries helped me make what I consider an informed decision after I tested positive for a BRCA 2 gene mutation.
In the early 1990s two breast cancer genes were identified - BRCA 1 and BRCA 2. These genes do not cause breast cancer, but rather fight the disease. After both my sisters developed premenopausal breast cancer, the three of us underwent genetic blood tests. Each of us was found to carry the same BRCA 2 mutation. Thus my sisters and I cannot suppress breast cancer if it emerges. In the general population, a woman has about a 12 percent chance of developing breast cancer and about a 1.7 percent chance of developing ovarian cancer in her lifetime. With a positive BRCA mutation these percentages jump to up to 84 percent for breast cancer and up to 27 percent for ovarian cancer. My personal risk became seven times greater for developing breast cancer and 16 times greater for developing ovarian cancer. The decision for my surgeries was made based on these statistics as well as my personal point in life.