Action News Jax Investigates: Battling breast cancer with genetics

Breast cancer: Every year in America, one in eight women are diagnosed with it. Action News Jax Investigates a new genetic link to breast cancer that doctors are still struggling to understand.

One local mother’s journey, through a tragic family history, hopes that unlocking this genetic secret will save lives.

Family is the driving force in Meg James’ life. At 31, she’s a loving mom and devoted wife who knows how fleeting life can be.

James’ great aunt and uncle died of breast cancer. Her mother survived the disease, as did both her grandmothers. And right now, James’ 43-year-old sister is battling stage 2 breast cancer.

“When my sister was first diagnosed, the first question I asked was, 'Are you BRCA positive?'” James said.

She wasn’t. BRCA is a gene mutation, and having it dramatically increases your risk for breast cancer. It’s the most researched gene associated with breast cancer.

Testing revealed neither James nor her mother have it, but did find James was a variant for a gene called NBN.

Some studies have linked it to cancer, but researchers don’t know much about it. Given her family history and the genetic uncertainly, James made a life-changing decision.

“I just wasn’t OK with the answer of just wait around and see what the (NBN) does in 10 years. I have two boys, I’ve got to be here in 10 years,” she said.

This mom of two boys chose to have a preventative double mastectomy.

Action News Jax talked to one of her plastic surgeons, Dr. Hollie Hickman, who believes in 10 years NBN could prove to be as deadly a predictor as the BRCA gene.

“It’s not as well-defined. They don’t have clear statistics,” Hickman said.

Hickman is seeing more women in her office who have the variant gene. Many are deciding to have preventative surgery and reconstruction.

“I think in patients that are mothers, it’s not a hard decision because they want to live for their children,” Hickman said.

Three weeks after her surgery, James had no regrets. This mom is comforted knowing she’s done everything she can to be here for her boys.

James hopes her family’s journey will make NBN or variant NBN part of a bigger conversation, that lead to education and more money for research.

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