BRCA1, BRCA2, Breast cancer, Breast Cancer Screening, Cancer, Genes, Genetics, Health, Mammogram, Mastectomy, Ovarian Cancer, UK, Women's Health

Vita: Angelina’s Genes Deciphered

Angelina Jolie sparked a lot of controversy earlier this month when she revealed her decision to have both her breasts removed following a BRCA+ diagnosis.

“Why did she have to tell the world?” people asked.
“Did she just do it for publicity?”
“Why didn’t she get her ovaries removed as well?”

Unfortunately, many people judged and criticised Jolie without really understanding what her diagnosis meant and what her options were.

The aim of this blog is not to add to the discussion about whether or not she made the right choice (I fully support her decision and also believe she was right to tell the world, before a journalist did). Instead, I want to explain a little about my experience of BRCA genetic testing here in the UK, and what a BRCA+ diagnosis means.

To continue reading this blog in Breast Cancer Care UK’s Vita magazine, follow the link below:

BRCA1, BRCA2, Breast cancer, Cancer, Chemotherapy, Genes, Genetics, Health, Mastectomy, Ovarian Cancer, Wigs, Women's Health

The Gene Test Result

After an agonising 8-week wait, I finally got the results of the gene test when I was half-asleep this morning. Amazingly, I tested negative and got the all-clear for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene faults. This is great news not only for me but also for my family, as we can just about assume none of us inherited the gene mutation (and perhaps Granny Hetty never had it after all). PHEW! This means several things (I feel a list coming on…):

1) I can keep my original boobies!

2) I won’t have to have a double mastectomy and try to make new boobs out of my back muscle/stomach flab (so I’ll stop eating all the pies now).

3) I will be able to proceed with radiotherapy in Dublin in January, dates pending – watch out Dublin & FB, here I come!

4) I should be able to have baby Priceys some day without having to worry about passing on nasty harmful genes to them.

Hooray! Now that really is a weight off my mind.

There is still a decent chance I could get breast cancer in my untreated breast at some point in my lifetime (30% over the next 60 years, compared to about 5% for a woman who has never had breast cancer), but apparently this is not enough to merit a preventative mastectomy. I may be able to have further tests in 5-6 years to see if I inherited a different condition that caused my breast cancer, and there’s a chance I could look at having a mastectomy then, but for now the decision is that the boobies are staying put! My ovarian cancer risk is also about as low as that of any person, as far as I understand. So, happy news all round.

Fortunately, I had some fabulous girlfriends to stay for the weekend, which took my mind off waiting for the phone to ring with my results. As you can see, we had a great time frolicking in the Yorkshire countryside in our wellies, and later trying on all my wigs. My legs are now sore from all the up-hill walking in wellies, and I’m feeling drugged up from the steroids and ready for a good sleep.

(Here we are pictured hanging from a tree that must’ve fallen in the past few days’ incredibly strong wind and rain!)

Wig Party!

(Both photos courtesy of Miss Sophie Austin!)

The No-Sugar Diet

In other news, I just wanted to clarify to you all that I am staying off sugar for good, as I don’t think I made it clear in my previous blogs. The reason for giving up sugar in the first place was that there are very strong links between sugar and cancer, and drastically reducing my refined sugar intake is one of the ways I can try and prevent my cancer from recurring. I am looking forward to meeting the nutritionist in two weeks to find out more, but it seems eating refined sugar in things like chocolate and baked goods can cause my cancer cells to grow and thrive, so the best thing I can do is cut it out as much as possible.

As my weekend visitors know, I may have lapsed slightly with a certain sticky toffee and ginger pudding and some delicious chocolates, brownie and cookies, but I am now back on the no-sugar diet. As with all temptations in life, it’s pretty tough to cut it out 100%, so the plan is just to have tiny amounts of sweet goodies occasionally, but cut them out on the whole. So if you’re stopping through the Shepley area and fancy popping in to help me through my backlog of sweeties, please do stop by!

It’s the final chemo tomorrow! I think I will be practically dancing around with joy in a 10 days’ time when I’m through the worst of it!


BRCA1, BRCA2, Breast cancer, Cancer, Chemotherapy, Genes, Genetics, Health, Mastectomy, Ovarian Cancer

The Geneticist

Yesterday I met the geneticist and took a blood test for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. (BRCA stands for BReast CAncer). Unfortunately, I won’t find out the result for at least another 6-8 weeks, because the test 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 and looking for a spelling mistake.”

The geneticist was one of the nicest doctors I’ve met so far during my cancer journey. He started by drawing a family tree with coloured circles for the instances of breast cancer and any other cancers in our family. Based on this, he said there is probably only a 20% chance that I carry one of the breast cancer genes, because my father’s side of the tree is clear of cancer and my mother and aunty have never had cancer. What makes it seem much more probable, however, is that my maternal grandma had breast cancer in her thirties, at a time in the 1960s when breast cancer in young women was even rarer than it is now. I feel instinctively that I have the gene, but I have been known to be wrong on occasion. :/

There was good news and bad news in what the geneticist told me. It is more likely that I have the BRCA2 gene than the BRCA1 gene, based on the type of breast cancer I had. (Grade III, oestrogen-receptor positive, HER2 negative). There are various differences between the two genes, but the positive takeaway for me was that BRCA2 means that it is less likely I will develop ovarian cancer at some point in my life than if I had BRCA1. Interestingly, he also said that BRCA2 gene carriers are much more responsive to chemotherapy.

The bad news is that, if I do test positive for BRCA2, I have a 60-80% chance of developing breast cancer again at some point in my life, compared with the 5% chance that most people have. I would also have an increased chance of developing ovarian cancer, but not until I’m over 40, so I could opt to have my ovaries removed in my 40s.

Double Mastectomy

The chemotherapy and radiotherapy I am having for my breast cancer will reduce the risk of developing another tumour in my left breast to about 30%, but unfortunately my right one would still have the 60-80% risk. Thus, the implication is that if I test positive for the BRCA2 gene, I will have to have a bilateral (i.e. both sides) mastectomy. I have already been thinking about this for a month or so and, although I never imagined I’d have to part with either of my boobs, I am fully prepared to have that operation and get some lovely new ones. It is, however, a huge operation that can involve a 6-month recovery period, but I’ll cross that bridge if and when I come to it.

The fertility specialist I spoke to a couple of months ago said that deciding to be tested for this gene was something many people wouldn’t want to do, but I made the decision pretty quickly that I absolutely want to know, so that I can take the appropriate risk-reduction measures and then get on with my life without the fear that I will develop a second breast cancer. (Note that this has nothing whatsoever to do with the likelihood of my current cancer recurring in a different part of my body at some point down the line – that is a separate matter, but I have been told that my programme of treatment gives me a 90% chance of being clear of recurrence for the next 10 years, which is a start).

As some of you may know, it is breast cancer awareness month in the UK (more of this in a later blog post) so I feel like breast cancer is absolutely everywhere I go at the moment – in every magazine and on lots of daytime TV talk shows, particularly! So I do at least feel that I am not alone. All I can do now is wait, but at least once I know whether I have the gene or not, I will then have the knowledge and power to act accordingly! Let’s just hope those lab doctors crack on with War and Peace and get me an answer ASAP.

In other news, I am feeling much better today. Returning to hospital yesterday for the appointment and test made me feel physically sick, but now, touch wood, I won’t have to go back for another two weeks and can concentrate on getting back to strength again. Time for some cooking therapy!