Healthy breasts and ovaries removed over cancer fear

Claire Whittaker
Image caption Claire Whittaker said she felt "incredibly lucky" following the surgery

A woman who had her healthy breasts and ovaries removed because of a family history of cancer has spoken of her relief following the operation.

Screening revealed Claire Whittaker, 37, from Honeybottom, in Berkshire, had an 85% chance of developing cancer.

She said: "Suddenly it was so horrifying and my first instinct was to think of my children and realise the implications for them."

Surgery at the John Radcliffe hospital in Oxford reduced the risk to about 2%.

Lisa Walker, head of cancer genetics for the Oxford region, said: "It is a difficult choice to make but I think most of our patients feel empowered by at least having that choice.

"Given their family histories, I think a lot of them would say that their mums, their aunties and their grandmothers never had these choices and simply had to cope with the cancers when they occurred."

'Euphoric' feeling

According Dr Walker the referral rate in the Oxford region is increasing "out of all proportion", with approximately 50 to 70 referrals to the Oxford regional genetics centre a week.

Genetic testing at the centre is for patients with a strong family history of breast and ovarian cancer and establishes the risks of developing the disease in the future.

In the general population about 10% of women will develop breast cancer, but with a gene alteration like Ms Whittaker's it is about eight times more likely.

Ms Whittaker remains pleased with her decision.

"Nobody can explain that feeling, it is euphoric.

"That risk has gone, that lump has gone, that terrible fear that you hang on to as a heavy weight has suddenly gone and I feel incredibly lucky."

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