Theodora Ross, the director of the Cancer Genetics Program at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, has a lot of experience with breast cancer — both treating it and dealing with her family's history of cancer, Terry Gross from NPR's Fresh Air reports.
In a new book called A Cancer in the Family: Take Control of Your Genetic Inheritance, Ross recounts how having a small melanoma — which was successfully treated — spurred her to undergo genetic testing. She'd previously put it off, despite her family history. "But within the first year of getting married, I came down with melanoma, and at that point, I think, was when that denial went away," Ross tells Gross.
For her, Ross says that knowing she had a breast cancer-linked mutation was "exhilarating." She then knew what was going on in her family and, for herself, could then pursue a double mastectomy and have her ovaries removed to reduce her chances of developing breast or ovarian cancer. "And so for me, it was an instant decision — I don't want to get that, I don't want to go through that, and the data is really good for that preventing cancer," Ross says. "So it was a pretty quick decision for me. Many patients, it's not. It takes them some time."
While Ross is an advocate of genetic testing, she advises some caution and suggests looking at family history of cancer or any other disease should be a first step.