Dr. Marie Savard, a specialist in internal medicine and author of the book How to Save Your Own Life, says there are women like René who don't know that they are at risk for developing breast cancer.
According to Dr. Savard, there are a few simple medical tests that can help you determine your risk factor. First, Dr. Savard says every woman with a high risk should ask her doctor for a genetic test called BRCA1 or BRCA2, which determines whether you've inherited the gene that causes breast cancer. Eighty to 85 percent of women who test positive will develop some kind of breast cancer.
Though René did not have the gene, her family history was cause for concern. Dr. Savard says that if one or more of your family members have had breast cancer, you should consider genetic counseling. "There are specialists who really help you go through your family tree and understand what your risks are," she says. "Then, [they] help you make the decision about this prophylactic surgery."
Women of Ashkenazi or Eastern European Jewish descent are also at greater risk, Dr. Savard says, and should be tested to see if they've inherited the gene. René says the test costs $3,000, but it was worth it. "It was that important to me to know," she says.