Difficult choices for mother-of-four with cancer gene
Women with the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes have a 45-65% chance of getting breast cancer by age of 70
Bronwyn Kane: ‘I was shocked when I heard my result was positive but I have never seen it as a life sentence or felt a constant ticking bomb like I’ve heard others say.’ Photograph: Eric Luke
Angelina Jolie made headlines earlier this year when she opted to have a double mastectomy in order to reduce her risk of developing breast cancer. The Hollywood star had discovered that she had inherited the BRCA gene; her mother died in 2007 aged 56 after battles with breast and ovarian cancer .
UK singer Michelle Heaton also underwent the same operation as carriers of the gene can lower their risk of developing breast cancer from 65 per cent to 5 per cent with this preventative surgery.
Although rare – just 5-10 per cent of breast cancer cases are genetic – discovering you have the gene is still a traumatic experience.
“Most recent figures from the National Cancer Registry show that 2,749 people were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010. Of these breast cancers, 5-10 per cent are genetic, meaning that the diagnosed have the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene,” says Naomi Fitzgibbon, cancer information service manager with the Irish Cancer Society.
“We know that these genes significantly increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer. Women with these genes have a 45-65 per cent chance of getting breast cancer by the age of 70.
“In Ireland there are approximately 360 women under 50 years who have been identified at high risk of breast cancer because they are carriers of a specific gene.”
Bronwyn Kane (39) is married with four children under the age of eight. She recently discovered she has the BRCA gene after her mother, Miriam, was diagnosed with breast cancer and family history suggested the possibility of a genetic link.
“My mum had breast cancer and a left mastectomy back in 1995 when she was 46 years old,” says the Dublin woman.
“Then my grandmother developed cancer in 2006 when she was 82 and died two years later. Initially they thought it was spinal cancer but shortly before she died they discovered it had originated as breast cancer and had started in the same location as my mum’s – very far back in the breast tissue.”
Due to the similarity between both cancers, Miriam’s consultant suggested she be tested for the BRCA gene. Bronwyn and her siblings went to the meeting with their mother in 2009 and were shocked to discover their mother had the faulty gene.
“Several months after Mum was tested, she was called back and was told she had the BRACA 2 gene,” recalls Bronwyn.
“She was very upset but went ahead and had both ovaries removed and a few months later a right mastectomy on a healthy breast followed by a double reconstruction.
“My siblings and I immediately decided to go for testing. I went on my own and there was no counselling involved at all. I’ve heard that mentioned in the media before, but in my experience, this isn’t part of the process.”
Six weeks later Bronwyn was called in to get her results.