Breast cancer gene encourages more testing

Shana Sanchez is a vibrant 34-years old woman and is dealing with her second bout of breast cancer.

Three years ago, Sanchez discovered a lump in her breast and immediately went to doctors who diagnosed it as cancer. She went through chemotherapy and had a lumpectomy which removed the lump and took care of the cancer.

Then in February 2013 cancer showed up again, this time in her other breast.

"I made my doctor promise last time for my first cancer, he's like, you don't have to do a mastectomy, but there's a good chance it could come back because I'm BRCA positive," says Shana Sanchez from Albuquerque.

When the cancer returned this second time around, Sanchez made the brave decision to have doctors perform a double mastectomy.

"The risk reduction is greater than 90 percent if you have this surgery," says Dr. Calvin Ridgeway, a breast cancer doctor from Lovelace Women's Hospital in Albuquerque.

According to recent studies, women who test positive for the BRCA mutation have up to a 50 percent risk of developing breast cancer by age 50 and a 64 percent chance of it turning into a second breast cancer. That was also the case in Shana's family.

"My mom's actually had breast cancer three times and her third cancer she was just like, I'm just going to take them both out and when I saw her and how strong she is, I was like, I could do it," says Sanchez. "You've got to have faith, you've got to pray, I mean God will get you through it.

Doctors say testing for the BRCA gene is a simple one and can be done through drawing blood or a cheek swab in the mouth, either way it is crucial. The BRCA-1 gene not only tells if a woman is susceptible to breast cancer but ovarian cancer too.

As an alternative to a mastectomy women can also get drug therapy, however studies show the mastectomy significantly reduces their overall risk.

"If a patient has the genetic mutation which places them at an 80 percent risk of getting breast cancer, I would recommend that they get the premature surgery," says Dr. Ridgeway.

"Get it checked out, don't be scared," adds Sanchez. "I mean, it's not a death sentence, you're going to be ok, I'm fine, I feel good."

Shana had her double mastectomy in March and just two months later is feeling strong. She is planning on having the reconstructive surgery in the coming months ahead.


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