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Laura Price


Why I Want to Get Rid of My Breasts

Posted: 01/11/2012 00:00

I'll just come straight out with it: I want them gone. I don't mean I want to be flat-chested forever - I want a full reconstruction, but I want rid of my natural breasts and the risk of getting cancer again.

You see, my cleavage is like a ticking time bomb. Don't get me wrong, I love my breasts, but they are pesky little things with a cancer risk. I know a double mastectomy will be a long and painful process, but what's a year or so of my life compared with a possible 60+ years of worry and the chance of having to go through the whole chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy process a second time?

Three weeks ago, I took a test for the breast cancer genes, known as BRCA1 and BRCA2. I was diagnosed with breast cancer this year at 29 years old and, because my maternal grandmother also had breast cancer in her 30s, the chances of my having a genetic mutation seemed high.

The Manchester-based geneticist started by drawing a family tree with coloured-in circles for the instances of breast cancer in my family. Based on this, he said there was a 50% chance that I have an inherited condition that caused my breast cancer, and a 20% chance that I have the mutated BRCA1 or 2 gene. The percentage is relatively low because of the absence of cancer on my father's side of the family, and the fact that my mother and aunt have lived to their 60s with no sign of the disease.

Unfortunately, the results of the blood test take a couple of months because the analysis involves extracting my DNA and going through it with a fine-tooth comb in search of a genetic 'error' - a process the geneticist likened to "Going through War and Peace in search of a spelling mistake." So, while I wait, I have no choice but to consider my options.

If I test positive for a fault in the gene - most likely BRCA2 because of the type of breast cancer I developed (oestrogen receptor positive and HER2 negative) - I will have a 50-85% lifetime risk of breast cancer. That risk is dramatically reduced on my left side because of the chemotherapy treatment I am currently undergoing and the Tamoxifen drugs I will take for five years to reduce my oestrogen levels, but my right breast would still face a 30% lifetime risk of developing cancer, even with Tamoxifen. A positive result would mean I would be foolish not to undergo a bilateral mastectomy - a decision that seems very clear to me.

But what if I test negative? The overriding feeling I have right now is that I may want a double mastectomy regardless of the result. You see, so far, my boobs have caused me nothing but problems. I don't want to have to live in fear of lumps and bumps for the rest of my life, forever worrying that one day I'll wake up with cancer again. It would be a shame not to be able to breast feed if I am able to have children, but I am sure the advantages of not getting cancer again outweigh the disadvantages of using bottled milk.

Testing positive for the BRCA2 gene mutation would also give me a 20-30% lifetime risk of developing ovarian cancer. Fortunately the ovarian cancer risk is only significant from my mid-to-late 40s, so I wouldn't need to consider removing my ovaries for another decade or so. That said, if I test positive for the gene, I would have a 50-50 chance of passing it on to my children, and I feel it would be irresponsible to knowingly have kids in that case.

I can't make a decision until I have all the facts in front of me. All I can do now is wait, but at least once I know whether I have the faulty gene, I will then have the knowledge and power to act accordingly. Let's just hope those doctors crack on with War and Peace and get me an answer as soon as possible.

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