WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- The BRCA gene is relatively rare but can have devastating consequences. If tested positive for the gene, it makes it difficult for your body to fight off abnormal cells which can lead to cancer.
Angelina Jolie discovered she had the BRCA1 gene mutation after losing her mother to ovarian cancer. She faced a choice of undergoing a double mastectomy or very close surveillance.
Many of the latest options for reconstructive surgeries have increased the amount of prophylactic mastectomies being done.
Dr. Rachel Brem, M.D. of George Washington University Medical Faculty Associates says, "It's important to remember that there is a big philosophical difference between prophylactic mastectomies and surveillance."
Women who opt for prophylactic mastectomes want to prevent ever getting breast cancer. Women who opt for very close surveillance opt to find breast cancer in its earliest most curable form," adds Dr. Brem.
Close surveillance includes mammograms starting at age 25 and MRI's and molecular breast imaging every year with at least 6 months in between.
Dr. Brem says, "It's a very personal choice. It was right for Angelina Jolie, it is right for many women but it's not for everyone."
Women who have the BRCA gene have a dramatically increased chance of developing breast and ovarian cancers.
Dr. Brem says, "If you have prophylactic mastectomies you have a 95 percent reduction of risk for having breast cancer, really quite significant."
However, it is important to note that only 5 percent of all breast cancers occur in women because of the BRCA gene. Also, men can also carry and pass on the gene. Men with the BRCA gene have higher risks of breast and prostate cancers.
The National Cancer Institute says currently there are no standard criteria for BRCA1 & BRCA2 genetic testing. However, many doctors recommend it for those who are high at risk.