Confronting a Family History of Breast Cancer, a Surgeon Makes Radical Decision

PHOTO: Dr. Christine Teal and her mother, Nancy Brown, enjoy a family vacation after Christys mastectomy to prevent breast cancer.
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Dr. Christine Teal, chief of breast surgery at the George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C., has spent her career navigating women through the most difficult moment in their lives -- a diagnosis of cancer.

But it was her mother's second diagnosis of breast cancer last year that spurred Teal to make her own life-altering decision. Teal decided to undergo a double mastectomy in her 40s, even though she had no cancer in her body.

"It was the aggressiveness of my mother's cancer," Teal explained today on "Good Morning America." "My mother did everything right. She took Tamoxifen, which is supposed to lower your chance of a recurrence. She did all of her screenings."

Teal's decision to undergo a double mastectomy, even though she does not have cancer and has not been tested for BRACA, frequently called the breast cancer gene, strikes many as extreme.

Read the Latest In Breast Cancer News

But it is an ultimate "What would you do?" question increasingly facing women today, 12 percent of whom, according to statistics, will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of a lifetime.

"It's very personal," Teal said of her decision to undergo the surgery, which is 90 percent effective in preventing the disease. "It's not right for everyone."

A Personal Journey

Teal's journey began in November 1997 when her mother, Nancy Brown, was diagnosed with a low-grade invasive ductal carcinoma in her left breast, a nonaggressive form of breast cancer that was treated with radiation and the drug Tamoxifen.

A month after her mother's diagnosis, Teal got a call from her best friend, Laurie, with news that she, too, had the disease.

Then in June 2010, the family's worst fears came true.

The cancer had re-emerged in Teal's mother, this time in her right breast. A mammogram, ultrasound and BRCA gene test didn't show any sign of the cancer, leaving it only to an MRI at Teal's hospital, George Washington, to confirm the diagnosis.

"Honestly, I don't know if I would have done it if my mother's second cancer was not as aggressive," said Teal. "The fact that we couldn't even see it on an X-ray or mammogram but had to do an MRI, that really got to me."

At the same time, Teal, a married mother of three young children, also learned that her great-aunt had died of breast cancer in her 50s.

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