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GRAPEVINE Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in Texas. By the end of this year, it's estimated that more than 15,000 women will be diagnosed with the disease.

The American Cancer Society says the odds of developing the illness are one-in-eight over a woman's lifetime.

For some women, a mutation in certain genes makes the odds even higher.

For many years, women with a family history of breast cancer have guessed that removing their breasts would prevent the disease. A new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows going to that extreme is worth it.

That family history is why 44-year-old Elise Bair elected to have a double mastectomy and also to have her ovaries removed after doctors found a tumor in one breast.

It goes back four or five generations, Bair said. My great-grandmother died of breast cancer; my grandmother died of breast cancer; my mother has it, but she is a survivor; and then there's me.

The JAMA study shows she likely made the right choice, and Baylor Grapevine surgeon Dr. Edward Clifford agrees.

It's confirmation that preventative mastectomies or what we call medically prophylactic mastectomies does decrease the risk of people developing breast cancer, he said.

Researchers studied more than 2,400 women with mutations in the BRCA gene. According to the National Cancer Institute, those women are far more likely to develop either breast or ovarian cancer.

Preventative surgery reduced cancer 40 percent in women with BRCA 1 mutations and 60 percent in those with a BRCA 2 mutation.

Just three months after her surgery, the JAMA study is reassuring to Elise Bair that her difficult decision was the right one.

For me, it was all about being here for my family, and I wanted to see the children grow up, Bair said.

Ovaries are intimately tied to breast cancer. Removing them and the fallopian tubes, according to this study lowers the risk of ovarian and breast cancer in women who have not been diagnosed with either disease.

The American Cancer Society says the key to surviving breast cancer is early detection and treatment. It recommends every woman should start self exams at age 20, with physician exams every three years. At age 40, all women should have a yearly mammogram.

E-mail jstjames@wfaa.com

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