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The risk factors to be aware of, when breast screening and genetic testing should be carried out and when proactive surgery may be appropriate.
By Ali Cloak
Angelina Jolie recently caused a media sensation when she revealed she had undergone radical double mastectomy surgery to reduce her chances of developing breast cancer in the future.
Angelina Jolie recently published an essay in the New York Times which explained her decision to have both of her breasts surgically removed. Her mother died at the age of 56 after a 10 year battle with breast cancer. Angelina Jolie was found to have the ‘faulty’ gene BRACA1, which drastically increases the risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
Her doctors estimated she had an 87% risk of breast cancer based on her particular family history and genetic makeup. She chose to undergo a preventative double mastectomy in early 2013 and has now been told that her chances of developing breast cancer are less than 5%.
She publicised her story in the hope that others would realise that there are options available to those with a high risk of developing breast cancer, and in the hope of increasing awareness of the condition generally. Recent news reports by the BBC have reported a marked surge in the number of people requesting the testing.
The Welsh government has recently announced it is investing in improved technology which would make it quicker and cheaper to test more patients who may have the genes which significantly increase the risk of breast cancer. This is particularly pertinent now, following the recent surge in the number of women wanting the testing, following Angelina Jolie’s public revelation about her elective double mastectomy earlier this year. The improved testing will be rolled out over the next 2 years throughout Wales. It is anticipated the scheme will help hundreds of women gain additional information on their personal chance of acquiring the disease and, depending on the results, either allay their fears or allow them to obtain prompt treatment and therefore maximise chances of successful recovery.
Statistics report that 1 in 8 women in the UK will develop breast cancer. Generally, the most significant risk factor is increasing age and so breast screening on the NHS starts at 50 for most people.
Generally, women aged 50-70 are invited to attend breast screening every three years as part of the NHS Breast Screening Programme (NHSBSP). Each country within the UK has its own screening programme. In England, the age range for breast screening is being extended to 47–73 by the end of 2016.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has developed guidelines on screening those women with an increased risk of developing breast cancer because of their family history. A multitude of factors are considered to assess your individual risk level.
The NICE guidelines group women into moderate or high risk and the category will determine the next level of screening which is recommended to you. The vast majority of woman with a family history of breast cancer are not in a high-risk group and don’t ever develop breast cancer.
Proactive breast surgery is only recommended in a small number of instances where the risk of breast cancer is significantly higher than the general population. Specialist medical staff will explain the available options to you, along with counselling to assist you through the process.
All women are encouraged to be aware of how their breasts normally feel and look so that they can detect any changes, even if they are having regular breast screening.
If you think you may be at increased risk of breast cancer because of your family history, talk to your GP about this.
We support greater awareness of the risks of breast cancer and the screening available. Unfortunately, as clinical negligence solicitors, we deal with many claims arising where there is a delay in diagnosing breast cancer or where the disease has been misdiagnosed. Due to the nature of breast cancer, delays can have tragic consequences.
The lawyers at Clinical Negligence Team are experienced in dealing with such claims and would be happy to speak with you should you have any concerns about treatment you or a loved one received.