Dr. Christine Teal had never been flagged for suspicious lumps in her breasts, nor had she tested positive for mutations in the breast cancer susceptibility genes, which greatly increase a woman's risk of developing the disease.
But Teal -- who is chief of breast surgery at George Washington University Hospital -- nonetheless opted to undergo a preventive double mastectomy, electing to have surgeons remove both her breasts.
"There are genetic breast cancers out there that are not part of BRCA. That was the case with my family," Teal explained. Her mother was twice diagnosed with the disease -- most recently with aggressive, stage III cancer -- but tested negative for BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations, meaning Teal herself was never tested.
Yet the breast cancer expert said the sheer aggressiveness of her mother's disease filled her with anxiety.
"For me, it was pretty straightforward," Teal said. "I didn't want to worry for the next 40 years."
For many women, understanding their breast cancer risk and determining what preventive options are available to them are intensely daunting tasks. But new research published last week may lend clarity to at least one piece of the puzzle.
In a study published the Journal Of Clinical Oncology, researchers looked at more than 3,000 families, nearly 300 of which had breast cancer susceptibility gene mutations present.
Women who had first-degree relatives -- i.e. mothers, sisters or daughters -- with BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations, but who were themselves negative were at no higher breast cancer risk than average women, the researchers found. That finding runs counter to an earlier study that suggested such "non-carriers" with first-degree relatives still had between a two- and five-fold increased risk of breast cancer.