Thursday, 4 March 2010

How it all started

Today I went to the GP to discuss genetic testing for breast cancer. Requesting a test has been floating around my mind for a few years, but now I’ve finished my family (my husband and myself have replaced ourselves, two is plenty), I’ve done my breastfeeding and I’m approaching 36, it’s time to make an appointment. The science behind genetic testing for familial breast cancer has been around a while now, but until recently I wouldn’t have wanted to know my risk. A positive test can mean an oophorectomy (a playful sounding word for the not-so-fun procedure of ovary removal), something I would not have been willing to go through prophylactically before having children.

My family history is quite simple. My father’s sister had breast cancer at the age of 45 and her mother (my paternal grandmother) had her breasts removed at 31 or 32. My grandmother never thought she had cancer, and there is no proof – at the time double mastcetomy was the standard, brutal treatment for any ominous looking growth. My aunt however, thinks her mother’s lump was similar in location to her own and the early onset in both cases makes a genetic link worth following up. There are no other cases, but then I have few female relatives (my sibling and cousins are all male, my father only has the one sister). On my mother’s side, there is the odd late-onset cancer, but nothing unusual.

The GP listened to my family history. He was unsure and had to check the guidelines – do I need a first degree relative suffering from early onset disease to be referred? I explain that this is impossible, seeing as any genetic predisposition is on my father’s side of the family and I do not have a sister. It turns out second degree relatives will suffice and he agrees to refer me.