Breast cancer survivors around the world woke up to the news this morning that mastectomies may not improve survival rates as previously thought.
And one woman who has reason to balk at the new findings is mother-of-two Katy Harris, from Kimpton in Hertfordshire.
The 50-year-old has just received the devastating news that her cancer has returned – nine years after she had both breasts, and her ovaries, removed in a harrowing two-year ordeal after learning she carried faulty BRCA gene – dubbed the Angelina Jolie gene.
Katy’s re-diagnosis comes after a new study from the University of Southampton found that women carrying the dangerous gene have the same survival rates as those without – even after undergoing a mastectomy.
History repeating: Katy has just received the devastating news that her cancer has returned – nine years after she had both breasts, and her ovaries, removed in a harrowing two-year ordeal
University of Southampton researchers found outcomes were the same whatever kind of treatment women had – including mastectomies.
After seeing the findings, Katy would be forgiven for feeling frustrated after undergoing nearly two years of surgery – but the single mother maintains she would go though it all again knowing what she knows now.
Speaking exclusively to MailOnline FEMAIL, she said: ‘It’s been a huge shock, but what I’m now concentrating on are the scans next week and just praying it hasn’t been anywhere else. That’s the key thing.’
Katy maintains she has no regrets about having both breasts removed, saying: ‘I would still have double mastectomy because of family history and the fact that it’s come back and I don’t have any breast tissue left.
‘If I had any breast tissue, it could have come back a lot worse.’
New findings: Katy’s re-diagnosis comes after a new study from the University of Southampton found that women carrying the dangerous gene have the same survival rates as those without
The most dangerous genes
BRCA1 – Led Angelina Jolie to have a double mastectomy because of her risk of breast cancer. Affects one in 800 women, up to 70 per cent increased risk.
BRCA2 – Mutations prevent DNA from repairing itself properly, leading to breast cancer. Affects one in 500 women, up to 70 per cent increased risk.
PALB2 – Works similarly to the BRCA genes. Affects one in 1,000 women. Around 40 per cent increased risk.
Having a mutated BRCA gene increases the chance a woman will develop breast cancer in her lifetime, from 12 per cent to 90 per cent.
Katy has a strong family history of cancer and lost her mother to the disease nine years ago – as a result, she decided to be tested and was diagnosed with breast cancer aged 42 – also discovering that she carried the mutant BRCA2 gene.
The shocking discovery prompted Katy, an office manager for an interiors company, to opt for a double mastectomy rather than a lumpectomy – even though the cancer was only in her left breast.
Now, after doctors found cancer in the scar tissue of Katy’s left breast implant, she is facing CT and bone scans to see if the disease has spread.
Genetics: Katy has a strong family history of cancer and lost her mother to the disease nine years ago – as a result, she decided to be tested and was diagnosed with breast cancer aged 42
She will also have her implants removed and undergo a DIEP Flap procedure to have her breasts reconstructed using fat, skin, and blood vessels from her belly.
But despite her ordeal, Katy’s thoughts on her ordeal remain pragmatic about her experience.
She said: ‘I just think that that more research needs to be done. They’re doing a huge amount of research at the moment which has helped, and if it wasn’t for the discovery of the BRCA2 gene then the first time my cancer would not have been picked up and I would have gone diagnosed.
‘Because of all the research that has been done now, I am here to tell the tale.’
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New study is a blow for mastectomy patients
Young women with the BRCA gene mutation that prompted actress Angelina Jolie’s pre-emptive and much-publicised double mastectomy are not more likely to die after a breast cancer diagnosis, scientists said this wek.
In fact, they may have a ‘survival advantage’ over non-carriers if diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer, a form that is particularly hard to treat, a team wrote in the journal The Lancet Oncology.
‘Women diagnosed with early breast cancer who carry a BRCA mutation are often offered double mastectomies soon after their diagnosis or chemotherapy treatment’ compared to non-mutation carriers, study co-author Diana Eccles of the University of Southampton said in a statement.
‘Our findings suggest that this surgery does not have to be immediately undertaken along with the other treatment.’
According to the American Cancer Society, women with a mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes have a seven-in-10 chance of getting breast cancer by the age of 80. They are also more likely to get it at a younger age than other women.
Angelina Jolie had both breasts surgically removed as a preventative measure after tests revealed she carried the mutation
In 2013, Hollywood star Angelina Jolie announced she had had both breasts surgically removed as a preventative measure after tests revealed she carried the mutation, despite not having been diagnosed with cancer.
For the new study, Eccles and a team recruited 2,733 British women aged 18-40 who had been diagnosed with breast cancer between 2000 and 2008.
Twelve percent of the women had a BRCA mutation.
The team tracked the women’s medical records for an average period of just over eight years, and found that 651 of 678 total deaths were due to breast cancer.
‘The study found that there was no difference in overall survival two, five or ten years after diagnosis for women with and without a BRCA mutation,’ a press statement said.
In a subgroup of women with triple-negative breast cancer, those with a BRCA mutation had slightly higher survival rates for the first two years after diagnosis.
‘In light of their findings the authors suggest that women with triple-negative breast cancer and a BRCA mutation who choose to delay additional surgery for 1-2 years to recover from their initial treatment should be reassured that this is unlikely to affect their long-term survival,’ the statement said.
‘However, risk-reducing surgery will still likely be beneficial for BRCA mutation carriers to prevent another new breast or ovarian cancer from developing in the longer term.’
While only about five percent of breast cancers are diagnosed in women younger than 40, a high proportion of deaths fall in this age category.