Local Sisters Face Tough Decision After BRCA Tests

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Angelina Jolie made headlines this week when she announced she underwent a double mastectomy to reduce her chance of developing breast cancer. Now a River Valley woman and her sisters face the same decision.

After losing their mother to breast cancer, Cindy Smith and her two sisters were tested to see if they also carry the gene.

"We're all positive for the BRCA2 gene," she said.

Chris Roberts, a registered nurse, says the test looks for a gene mutation on BRCA1 or BRCA2.

"If they have a mutation on one of those genes, they can be up to ten times more likely to develop breast cancer or ovarian cancer or both," Roberts said.

Smith said even though she and her sisters each tested positive for the breast cancer gene, they've all chosen their own path to manage their health.

"I had a hysterectomy,” Smith said. “I wasn't having any kind of problems but I went ahead and had that because I wasn't emotionally ready to have the mastectomies. So that, in itself, decreased my chance of developing breast cancer some.”

One of Smith's sisters also had a hysterectomy, the other monitors her health with regular exams.

Smith says she wasn't ready to have a mastectomy, so instead she has annual breast MRIs.

"A breast MRI can find it at such an early stage, can find breast cancer at an early stage, that I, myself, am comfortable knowing that I’m monitored, so closely, that once it's found, I won't hesitate to have that procedure, to have a mastectomy,” she said.

Roberts says the breast cancer gene is hereditary but those who do not have a family history should still be tested.

"We're paying a lot of attention to the BRCA analysis, but actually 80 percent of women that are diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history," Roberts said.

Roberts says there are four breast centers in the state offering the BRCA test. Locally the tests are offered at the Breast Center of Northwest Arkansas in Fayetteville and Sparks Women's Center in Fort Smith.