For Breast Cancer Prevention, Family Matters

Beauty queen Allyn Rose shares her story

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When 24-year-old Allyn Rose announced in November 2012 that she would be undergoing a prophylactic double mastectomy, she sent shockwaves through the media.

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Why would a beauty queen — Miss District of Columbia in 2012 and a Miss America contestant in 2013 — decide to have both of her breasts removed? She shared her answer at our Personalized Healthcare Summit in early May, just a week before actress Angelina Jolie shared a similar story in The New York Times.

“We stress the importance of family history as a tool in personalized healthcare. Ms. Rose is a living example of that advice.”

Kathryn Teng

Kathryn Teng, MD

Center for Personalized Healthcare

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“The simple answer is, ‘I want to be alive,’” Ms. Rose told the audience. At age 16, she had seen her mother lose the struggle with metastatic breast cancer. “I did not want my mother’s cancer to define me. I decided to be proactive so I wouldn’t have to look over my shoulder for the rest of my life.”

As doctors, we stress the importance of family history as a tool in personalized healthcare. Ms. Rose is a living example of that advice.

Weighing the information

Two years after her mother’s death, her dad sat her down and offered some words that didn’t sink in at first.

“Breast cancer didn’t just take your mom,” her dad told her. “This is something that took your grandmother. It took your great aunt. It’s something you’re going to have to be incredibly vigilant about your whole life.”

At the time, she was 18 years old and felt invincible. However, after reading the journals her mother left for her, she started to consult medical experts about her options. With their help — and ultimately as her own choice — she decided to schedule a double mastectomy later in the year to greatly reduce her risk of future cancer. She did not test positive for BRCA gene mutations, but neither had her mother. In the end, she decided that the strong family history of cancer was enough.

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Now she uses her visibility to educate anyone listening about the importance of using family history as a tool for empowerment and prevention.

“I know this is not a cure-all,” Ms. Rose told the crowd. “It’s not the right decision for everybody. But it’s the right decision for me.”

Kathryn Teng, MD

Kathryn Teng, MD

Kathryn Teng, MD, is Director of the Center for Personalized Healthcare and leads Cleveland Clinic’s efforts to integrate personalized healthcare into standard practice.
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