BRCA1+ carrier: Why I chose prophylactic surgery

I’m lucky. Because although I’ve worn the all-too-familiar MD Anderson patient wristband off and on since July 2015, I’ve never actually had cancer. And I have my doctor and MD Anderson to thank for that. During a routine checkup several years ago, my physician asked if my mother had ever been tested for hereditary cancer syndromes. She knew that my mom is a 20-year breast cancer survivor whose family has a long history of that disease. So I asked my mother about it. Mom said she hadn’t ever been screened, so a few months later, she underwent genetic testing. And to our surprise, she tested positive for the BRCA1 mutation, which increases a carrier’s risk for breast and ovarian cancer. What being a BRCA1 carrier meant to me Knowing the risks of inheriting that genetic mutation, my sister and I decided to get tested, too. We reflected the odds perfectly — my sister was negative; I was positive. As an engineer, odds are important to me. And the odds of eventually being diagnosed with cancer if you have the BRCA genetic mutation are high — far too high for me to risk it. That’s why I contacted MD Anderson right away, where I entered the high-risk surveillance program under Banu Arun, M.D. I knew I’d be tested at least twice annually there for both breast and ovarian cancers. But as I approached my 40th birthday this fall, I decided to have preventive surgeries, too: a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy and a hysterectomy. After watching a dear friend struggle with her own cancer journey, it was not a difficult decision. And...