My Health – Part 2 : Family History & Screening

We have a strong history of Breast Cancer in our family on my mothers side – sisters, aunties, cousins, you name it. My mothers cousins who were brother and sister had breast cancer at the same time – how crazy is that! Not only were they going through it at the same time, but now we had male breast cancer in the family – I had never heard of this before, and actually haven’t since.

When we settled in New Zealand and found a new GP and I discussed my concerns with him around the family history and risk. He said he would like to refer me to a Breast Surgeon who specialised in this area. I was really impressed at how quickly he wanted to get me in front of the people who specialise in this area.

When I met with the Breast Surgeon, the GP had sent through the notes on our discussions to bring her up to speed. She was keen to get me screened on regular basis which involved:

  • Physical Examination – 1 x year
  • MRI – 1 x year
  • Mammogram – 1 x year

The MRI was due to my age (early thirties) and the breast tissue being so dense that the Mammogram may not detect an abnormality.

Alongside being in the care of the Breast Surgeon, she suggested that I meet with a Genetics Specialist so she could map my families history and assess how at risk I was. I gathered as much data as I could from my mothers sisters (who have awesome memories, seriously could not have done it without them!).

Following the visit to the Genetics Specialist she confirmed that I was high risk. Technology at the time (2009) it required a living family member who’d survived breast or ovarian cancer to be tested with me for a BRCA mutation. We had one family member who was still alive but she didn’t want to take the test! (what!!?).

This was before another close family member got diagnosed with Breast Cancer but by now technology had advanced and they could test without a living relative having to test also (which was a bonus given we were at other ends of the earth)

Still in my early thirties the advice given by my Specialist that I would need my ovaries removed when I was 40 to reduce the risk of Breast Cancer. This was a shock, but it also felt ages away. They said if we wanted a family we’d probably need to start thinking about that as come 40 their advice was they would be removed.

I went on getting screened as per the program the Surgeon recommended. With all of these ways of screening I was having (and am still having) something every 6 months, I still feel in such great hands.

Side note: Over the years there has been an abnormality detected via MRI which resulted in a biopsy which came back benign. Earlier this year following my routine MRI there was again something detected in the other breast. They quickly got me back in for Mammograms and Ultrasounds and came to the conclusion that they were happy with everything.

Fast forward to last year. I got an email telling me that my GP wanted to see me. I made an appointment and when he got there he asked how he could help … I said “umm I got an email saying you wanted to see me?” and as the words were coming out of my mouth it clicked! … I said “oh, I know! you’re probably after my ovaries are you?” He laughed and looked back at my notes, he said “I see her it’s all changed now, they don’t remove the ovaries to reduce the risk anymore” I told him that was good news and that I’d really already decided that I wouldn’t get them removed due to the risk of what I thought bringing on an early menopause would entail. I was getting well looked after with all the screening and was confident that anything would be detected.

I left feeling good … phew I get to keep my ovaries (…. also wondering how many people had already had theirs removed and now they have changed their stance on it) ** spoiler, they haven’t ! Click here to read part 3

So back to the Genetic Testing … As I write this I’ve had the test to see if I have the BRCA mutation in my bedside table for over a year, I haven’t taken it.

I figure that I could have the gene and not get breast cancer, or I could not have the gene and still get breast cancer

My thought over this whole time has been: If I just get as healthy as I can, then whatever happens, happens* …

*bearing in mind my Crohn’s Disease is going on alongside this (separate blog! :))