Hanahan resident Darlene Powell inherited the breast-cancer gene from her father, who died of the disease when he was 65.
After her first cousin, also a man, was diagnosed with breast cancer, Powell and several family members got tested for the gene BRCA.
Women with this gene have a 50 percent to 85 percent chance of developing breast cancer, compared with 10 percent of women without the gene who will be diagnosed. Female carriers also have a higher risk of ovarian cancer.
Men who carry the mutation have a slightly higher risk of breast, prostate, stomach and colon cancers.
FORCE, which stands for Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered, is a Tampa, Fla.-based nonprofit group for people who carry the breast cancer gene. In Charleston tonight, FORCE is launching its playful 2008 calendar featuring photos of topless breast cancer survivors and their stories.
"It's somewhat edgy and provo-cative, but it's about feeling confident in a body that's been through so much," said Sue Friedman, executive director of FORCE and Miss April.
FORCE is not about choosing one route, Friedman said, it's about educating people.
When Powell learned her genetic makeup in 2005, she was not surprised. She had been diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000 and underwent chemotherapy, radiation and a mastectomy. Three of her aunts had died of the disease.
Powell learned that, as a carrier, she had an 80 percent chance of the cancer returning in the next 12 years. That knowledge spurred the then-50-year-old to have her healthy breast removed and get a preventive hysterectomy.
"It's a weight lifted, the mental strain of knowing I could get breast cancer again," Powell said.
Two years after her genetic test, Powell wants to share what she learned, so she is taking two of her daughters to the calendar launch.
Medical geneticist Dr. Steven Shapiro will speak about genetic testing in the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. Genetic medicine is starting to tailor different treatments for breast cancer, he said, and more breakthroughs are on the way.
"There are high-risk families that need to know they carry a gene for breast cancer," Shapiro said.