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Nakeshia Duncan is Focused on Prevention

Minimally invasive surgery gave Nakeshia Duncan a relatively easy way to dramatically reduce her risk of developing ovarian cancer.

When Duncan went in for her annual gynecology exam in 2012, her doctor suggested testing for the BRCA genetic mutation based on her family’s history of cancer.Nakeshia Duncan

BRCA1 and BRCA2 are human genes that help prevent tumors. Inherited mutations in these BRCA genes increase the risk of female breast and ovarian cancers, and they have been associated with an increased risk of other types of cancers.

Duncan’s results came back positive for the BRCA genetic mutation. She said she was shocked to learn that she was at high risk for developing ovarian and breast cancer — with an 87 percent chance of developing breast cancer.

Some women who have the BRCA genetic mutation make the decision with their doctors to proactively have a hysterectomy and/or mastectomy to reduce their risk of developing cancer. That’s exactly what Duncan decided to do.

Her gynecologist, Megan Grilliot, MD, with West Georgia OB/GYN, performed a minimally invasive laparoscopic hysterectomy on Duncan to reduce her risk of developing ovarian cancer. Because the surgery used tiny incisions, Duncan made a quick recovery.

“Ms. Duncan was at very high risk for developing ovarian cancer,” Dr. Grilliot said. “It’s a difficult disease because the symptoms are very vague and often, it is not diagnosed until it’s very late stage.”

Dr. Grilliot said BRCA genetic testing is a game-changer in the battle against cancer.

“By being able to identify women who are at high risk based on the BRCA mutation, we are actually able to take steps to prevent them from getting cancer,” Dr. Grilliot said.

An educator with two daughters, Duncan was only in her late 30s when she had the hysterectomy. She figured she would eventually have an elective mastectomy to dramatically reduce her risk of developing breast cancer — a procedure she eventually had after a life-changing encounter at her school.

One day, while helping with the carline drop-off one morning at her school, a little girl emerged from a car crying. Duncan learned that the little girl’s mom had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. The woman, too, had previously had tested positive for a BRCA genetic mutation.

“I made my decision that moment, thinking about my own daughters,” Duncan said. “I called my doctor that day.”

Duncan, now 42, says she is glad that she underwent these elective surgeries and grateful to Dr. Grilliot for suggesting the BRCA genetic testing. She is very happy with the results of how her body has healed with minimal scarring.

“Now when I look in the mirror, I can’t even tell that I have had these surgeries,” she said. “I’m very happy I did this for myself and for my daughters.”