Healthy Plymouth woman, 23, has both breasts removed
A WOMAN aged 23 has had both her breasts removed because she was so scared she would get cancer.
Fiona Luscombe took the agonising decision following the death of her mother and grandfather from the disease.
The nursery worker has now undergone a double mastectomy after discovering she has the BRCA2 gene, which led to the deaths of her mother, Brenda, and grandfather, Frank, from breast cancer.
The gene, thought to be hereditary, is caused by abnormal genes passing from parent to child. Rather than playing the waiting game, Fiona decided to take the leap and have both her breasts removed before she was diagnosed as well.
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"I've grown up with cancer really. I think it's harder mentally than I thought it would be but I couldn't sit on it, I had to sort myself out," Fiona said.
When Fiona was three years old Brenda was diagnosed with breast cancer which she recovered from. But it returned 13 years later in her lymph nodes, liver and then in her bones.
It was liver cancer that killed Brenda in August 2007, when Fiona was just 17 years old.
"I didn't understand the full extent of it when I was younger but when it came back mum was given six months to live and that was true to the day.
"She was very organised. She arranged her own funeral, and she helped us to get through it. Her dad had breast cancer as well," she said.
After Brenda's death, Fiona's sister Jenny had a test in 2010 to check if she had the BRCA2 gene.
Jenny didn't have it but when Fiona had the test a year later in October 2011, aged 22, she did.
"In the test they talked me through the process, took my blood, and I received the results a month later.
"I was devastated, totally gutted and it took a long time to get my head around it.
"As soon as I got the test through I couldn't sit on it. Even though I have the gene I wouldn't be scanned until I was 30 and I couldn't wait that long.
"After I got the result I think I was traumatised but then I became really focused.
"Mum had it when she was 32 years old. I'm 23, I just couldn't risk it," she said.
Fiona was referred to a consultant at Mount Gould Hospital before being transferred to St Michael's Hospital in Hayle and underwent surgery nine weeks ago.
"It went really well but it was really daunting.
"Both breasts were removed at the same time. They removed all the tissue and put the implants in," she said.
Fiona said the operation has not only been a test on her health, but also her relationships.
"I'm engaged and it has been a challenge. My sister has moved to Spain and I have lost a lot of friends, but my dad lives across the road and my fiance has done everything for me," she said.
Fiona has been with her fiance, Chris, for seven years and now they are looking forward to their future together.
"He doesn't talk much about it, if I'm happy with it then he's happy with it. He was with me when my mum died so he understands. He's had to do everything for me though. It hasn't been easy."
Fiona works as a room leader at City College Plymouth Nursery where she looks after youngsters aged up to 2 years old.
"They say it takes six months to recover fully so I'm going back to work in January; it would be too hard before that because I can't lift the children which is a large part of my job," she said.
Now the 23-year-old is raising awareness for others who face hereditary breast cancer.
Fiona said: "I'm trying to raise awareness in Plymouth for people with hereditary breast cancer and the National Breast Cancer Hereditary Helpline because it's not very well known.
"I'm trying to do all I can by handing out leaflets and giving people the opportunity to speak to someone who has had their breasts removed and been through it," she added.
GENETIC TESTS: THE FACTS
When a family with a strong history of breast and/or ovarian cancer has been offered genetic testing, the first step is DNA sequencing where the DNA, genetic code, is analysed.
If the result of the predictive test is positive, this means the family member has inherited the gene mutation and has an increased risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer. They can also pass on the mutation to their children but a positive test does not mean that the person who carries the mutation will definitely get the cancer. It does, however, significantly increase the likelihood of that person developing cancer during their lifetime.
If the result of a predictive test is negative, the person has not inherited the gene mutation known to be associated with the cancer in their family. Their risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer is the same as that of the general population.
BRCA1 and BRCA2 are genes that have been shown to play a role in hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.
People with a strong family history of some cancers are invited to have more regular screening than people who don’t seem at increased risk.
Risk-reducing mastectomy is major surgery involving a general anaesthetic. During the operation the surgeon removes both entire breasts with or without the skin and/or nipples. The lymph nodes and underlying muscles of the breasts are not removed.
Signs and symptoms of cancer include changes to skin, a lump, a cough or hoarseness that lasts for more than three weeks, a change in bowel habits or any abnormal bleeding. Also unexplained, significant weight loss or coughing up blood.
Having any of those symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean you have cancer, but it’s sensible to get them checked out by your GP.
MALE BREAST CANCER: THE FACTS
BREAST cancer is often thought of as a condition that only affects women, but men – like Fiona’s grandfather Frank – can develop it.
Breast cancer affects one man in every 100,000 in England.
It is also estimated that around 300 new cases of breast cancer in men are diagnosed each year in England and the average age of diagnosis is 71 years of age.
The most common symptom of breast cancer in men is a hard, painless lump that develops on one of the breasts.
The causes of breast cancer in men are unclear but a number of risk factors for the condition include age, as most cases of male breast cancer affect men who are over 70 years old, having a family history of breast cancer (both male or female), obesity or alcohol consumption.
Having any of the signs or symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean you have cancer but it’s sensible to get them checked out by your GP.