Danielle McPhillips, a mammography technician, knew that there was a chance breast cancer would be in her future. She had a strong history of the disease on her paternal side of the family, including her father, who was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 55 and an aunt who had also been diagnosed. Even at a young age, she understood what that meant for her health and the health of her two younger sisters.
So when she decided to get tested for the genetic mutation BRCA2, a rare gene that can cause a 40 to 70 percent increase in breast cancer risk, she wasn’t surprised to find out that her diagnosis was positive.
“I wasn’t thinking negatively, I just thought I had that gene based on my history,” she explains. “The test results weren’t as shocking to me as they would probably be to some people. I was almost numb to it. It was what I had expected.”
From the moment her genetic testing results came back positive, Danielle knew what she needed to do. For years, she had planned on having a preventative double mastectomy, which would drastically reduce her risk for breast cancer and alleviate the daily fear and stress that came with wondering when breast cancer would affect her, too.
After seeing her father undergo chemotherapy treatments to both heal his cancer and keep it at bay, there was no doubt in Danielle’s mind that what she was giving up by choosing a mastectomy was worth it.
“I didn’t care about losing my breasts, but I wanted to have them to nurse my children. That was something I wasn’t willing to give up,” she says.
After giving birth to her second daughter, Danielle made the decision to undergo her mastectomy with Dr. Jennifer Sabol at Lankenau Medical Center at the age of 33. Aside from some scarring on both of her breasts, Danielle says there have been no side effects and certainly no regret.
“Danielle was incredibly knowledgeable about her risk for breast cancer from the time she came to my office about a mastectomy,” says Dr. Sabol. “I know that there was no doubt in her mind that this was the route that she wanted to take.”
“It’s like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders. People ask me if I would do it again, and I absolutely would,” says Danielle.
Since the mastectomy, Danielle’s risk of breast cancer has decreased from 85 percent to less than five percent, putting her at less of a risk than most women, regardless of whether or not they have the BRCA2 gene. Her younger sister, who also tested positive for the BRCA2 gene, also made the decision to undergo a preventative mastectomy.
Although Danielle and her sister chose to undergo mastectomies, Dr. Sabol stresses that not every woman who tests positive for the BRCA genetic mutation needs to go the same route.
“There are other options out there besides a mastectomy, including some medication, regular exams, and control of other breast cancer risk factors like weight, activity level, and tobacco use,” explains Dr. Sabol. “Deciding which option to pursue is a conversation that a patient should have with their doctor and a conclusion they can come to together.”
Every year, Danielle visits Dr. Sabol and her gynecologist for annual breast exams and ultrasounds every year.
“I make sure I go to those exams every year and always have regular appointments with my doctors,” says Danielle. “That’s the number one most important thing you can do in keeping cancer away, and even though I had a mastectomy, it’s still important.”