Health Team

Breast cancer survivor had family history of disease

Carol Watling never shied away from annual mammograms and began having them at 40, but other assessments might have predicted the breast cancer she developed at 54.

Posted Updated

RALEIGH, N.C. — Carol Watling never shied away from annual mammograms. She started having the exams at age 40, with no cancer being detected.

Two years ago, a 54-year-old Watling felt a lump in one of her breasts that did not show up on a mammogram. A biopsy showed it was breast cancer.

The Gail Model Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool might have helped her to prevent cancer years earlier. The test evaluates the risk factors for a woman developing the disease. One risk factor is first-degree relatives who had breast cancer. Watling has an uncle and a brother who both suffered from the disease.

“No doctor had picked up the fact that there was male breast cancer in the family and that was a red flag,” Watling said.

Breast surgeon Dr. Lisa Tolnitch recommended a genetic test and found that Watling had the gene mutation associated with breast cancer.

“We’ve since tested the male family members, and they have the same gene mutation,” Tolnitch said.

Tolnitch said some women with the gene mutation may choose to undergo more intensive screening or take the drug Tamoxifen.

Very few women choose to take Tamoxifen because the main side effect of the drug is menopause symptoms, Tolnitch said.

Watling had the breast with cancer removed and, after six months of chemotherapy, decided to have her other breast removed. She said the decision to have the second breast removed wasn’t hard because she felt there was no other option after testing positive for the gene mutation.

“It was just a matter of sitting and waiting for it to happen again or take care of it,” Watling said

Since then, she's recovered from breast reconstruction and said she has no regrets.


Copyright 2023 by Capitol Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.