CBSN

A family's aggressive measures to prevent breast cancer

After 65-year-old Betsy Sauer's two battles with breast cancer, doctors recommended her four daughters undergo genetic testing for mutations in the BRCA genes. BRCA1 and BRCA2 are tumor-suppressing genes, and mutations have been linked to an increased risk for breast and ovarian cancer. The results of the tests showed 3 out of 4 daughters had the mutations.

"As hard as it was as a mom to think, to know that I passed this onto my daughters, it was at least tempered by them having this information so they can make, you know, be aggressive about their own health," Sauer told CBS News' Bigad Shaban.

More than 232,000 women are expected to be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014, according to the National Cancer Institute. Patients carrying BRCA gene mutations, however, can have an increased risk of up to 80 percent -- that's 4 out of every 5 women.

After watching their mother fight cancer, sisters Jenny Shepard and Kristin Sullivan decided to take action. They both had preventative double mastectomies and also had their ovaries removed.

"I just knew from seeing what she had gone through, twice, if I could do anything to myself to not have that happen, that was a choice I wanted to make," Shepard told CBS News.

Their younger sister Megan Sauer planned to have surgery too, but she was diagnosed with cancer before she could go under the knife.

Shepard describes her reaction to the news of sister's diagnosis: "It was like rocks hit us. We thought she'd be fine because she was so young."

Her cancer diagnosis came when she was 27 years old and just weeks after her wedding day. Because she knew she had the BRCA gene and was being screened regularly, the cancer was caught early and treated right away. She is now in remission and doing well.

"If you think there is a risk in your family, speak to your physician who is well versed in breast cancer, and get an opinion on whether or not you deserve testing,"Dr. Courtney Vito, surgical oncologist at City of Hope in Duarte, California, told CBS News.

Betsy is grateful her daughters had genetic testing. "It's a very powerful tool and they made the best decisions because of it."