A DOWNTON woman who underwent surgery to reduce her risk of developing cancer has told her story to offer advice and reassurance to others who are genetically more likely to have the disease.
Michele Primmer discovered she carries the faulty BRAC1 gene which means she had a dramatically higher risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer. She had a double mastectomy followed two years later by a hysterectomy to reduce her risk of getting cancer to 0.05 per cent.
Cancer charities saw a surge in enquiries about the BRCA1 gene following film star Angelina Jolie’s decision to have a double mastectomy after she discovered she carried the faulty gene.
And cancer charity Macmillan says it expects another flurry of interest after a storyline in the soap opera Eastenders.
Ms Primmer says she hopes her own experience can help address concerns and raise awareness of when family history could be significant. She first became aware of the risk when her aunt found she carried an alteration in the BRCA 1 gene. “My aunt suggested that I arrange to have blood tests done to see if I was a carrier too,” she said.
“My mum had died back in 1990 of asbestoses but had also had breast cancer the year before. I spoke to my doctors and they arranged an appointment with the local genetics department; the result came back as positive.
“At first I wanted to go straight down for surgery to remove my breasts but I was told to go away and think about it. I opted for regular check-ups at the hospital along with mammograms to keep an eye on things until I was ready to have the surgery. “When I was ready to go through surgery, I had a double mastectomy with reconstruction. Two years later I had a full hysterectomy to combat the risk of ovarian cancer.
“I have two girls and a boy - one of my daughters has had the blood test and has come back negative, my son does not want to be tested and my youngest daughter wants to be tested when she turns 18.
“There are many different ways of dealing with this gene and only the person carrying it can decide the best way for them. I did what I felt was right for me, especially having seen my mum go through breast cancer at the age of 46 which was very draining both physically and emotionally. I’ve been very lucky in that my partner has been extremely supportive every step of the way and I could not have done it all without his support.”
Macmillan genetic counsellor Flora Boyd, said: “Anyone with an altered gene has a 50 per cent chance of passing it onto their children. If you are concerned about your family history of cancer you should discuss your concerns with your GP, who may then decide to refer you to your local clinical genetics department.”
Anyone who can has questions about genetics and cancer can ask Macmillan on 0808 808 00 00, or visit macmillan.org.uk/genetics.