The tide is changing in the race for a cure when it comes to breast cancer. Women are no longer waiting for a diagnosis.
40 year old Veronica Lua of Indio has a history of cancer in her family. Her mother had eight sisters, five were diagnosed with cancer, including her mother who died of ovarian cancer at the age of 65. Two others passed at a much younger age, triggering worry for Veronica who always seemed to have trouble with her mammogram readings, but she was never diagnosed. She says she would go in for a mammogram and it would always lead to an ultra sound then multiple biopsies. She was referred to a genetic specialist who recomended that she be tested for the BRCA Gene.
Dr. Janet Ihde, a surgical oncologist with the Breastlink Medical Group in Rancho Mirage explains that there are multiple mutations that can cause cancer but two recognized by the Genome Project are BRCA 1 and BRCA 2. She says BRCA 1 is usually a triple negative breast cancer which means it's more aggressive, there's also an increased risk of ovarian cancer.
Veronica was diagnosed with BRCA 1, meaning she had an 87% chance she will get breast cancer in her lifetime. And, it's so agressive that there is also an increased risk for Ovarian Cancer. Veronica, knowing she was a target for cancer, felt she had to make a decision about her health. She debated between elective surgery, a double prophylactic mastectomy which is the removal of both breasts or continued check-ups which would have to be more frequent. She says that combined with her family history and her abnormal mammograms she knew she had to go for the elective surgery.
Kathleen "Sunshine" O'Brien says if she could go back eight years to when she was diagnosed with the BRCA Gene, she would have gone in immediately for the double prophylactic mastectomy. Kathleen was diagnosed with Breast Cancer in 2011. She and her two sisters were all diagnosed within an eleven month period. The trio knew they were suspeptable to cancer, their mother had breast cancer when she was 38 years old. Eventhough the sisters knew they had the BRCA Gene, they didn't take action. Kathleen says that's in part due to the fact that they were all diagnosed in such a short period of time of eachother that they didn't have time to really research and plan ahead. Also, Kathleen says she and her sisters were somewhat naive when it came to their odds of getting cancer. She says because her sister Brenda was the first diagnosed, the other two just assumed it wouldn't happen to them.
Kathleen and Veronica both stress the importance of knowing your family history and not being afraid to ask doctors questions and get second opinions. Kathleen says her determination helped save her life because she insisted on having a double mastectomy, eventhough only one breast had cancer. She says after the surgery, doctors found cancer in the other breast when they were going through tissue in pathology.
Dr. Ihde believes in the BRCA test saying the results give patients options. She says you can prevent breast cancer actively.