(NBC) -- Testing for the breast cancer gene has given women the opportunity to take their health into their own hands, providing options for preventing the disease where before all they could do was treat it.
Women who test positive for the breast cancer gene have difficult decisions to make: Choosing between frequent mammograms or having their breasts surgically removed.
BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 mutations increase the risk for developing breast and ovarian cancer as much as 20 times.
"The question has arisen as to what to do when a woman tests negative for a BRCA gene mutation identified in her family," says Dr. Allison Kurian, an oncologist with the Stanford University School of Medicine.
Past studies suggested women who didn't have the BRCA mutation that runs in the family had a higher-than-average risk for the disease, but that research compared women with relatives who had the gene to the general population.
Stanford University School of Medicine experts say that's like comparing apples to oranges, because anyone with a relative who has cancer has a small increased risk for the same disease.
So they compared the test group to those who had relatives with other types of breast cancer.
"We did not find a greatly elevated risk for breast cancer, so I think that negative test can be reassuring to them," Kurian says.
Reassuring because they may not have to face the tough choices made by their mothers, sisters, or grandmothers.
Doctors say women who test negative for the breast cancer gene but have family members who are carriers should follow the same mammogram recommendations as the general population.