Published: 00:01, 01 November 2017
Two young sisters with a gene that puts them at high risk of developing cancer are planning to have their breasts and ovaries removed after taking the brave step to get screened.
Natalie Savage and Danielle Gawler chose to be tested after their grandmother, who had the gene and was diagnosed with breast cancer aged just 32, advised them to do so before she died.
They discovered they had inherited the gene mutation BRCA1, which puts their chances of developing breast cancer in the future as high as 65% and ovarian cancer almost 40%.
Natalie was just 18 when she tested positive. The accountant, now 23, says she has never regretted her decision.
“I now have the knowledge and power to do something about it,” she said.
“My BRCA diagnosis hasn’t impacted my life negatively at all, although it is sometimes a little daunting knowing the surgeries that lie ahead.
“Surgery isn’t recommended until you are nearer the age of 30 for risk-reducing mastectomy and 35 plus for risk-reducing hysterectomy.”
The former Herne Bay High School pupil says she plans to have a family before having her ovaries removed.
Her sister Danielle, 21, is also planning to have preventative surgery in the future.
"My diagnosis hasn't impacted my life negatively at all, although it is sometimes a little daunting knowing the surgeries that lie ahead" - Natalie Savage
The sisters are two of six granddaughters and one great-granddaughter in the family who could have the gene.
Natalie says two have chosen not to be tested and the others are too young for screening. The recommended age is 18.
After testing positive, the sisters started attending a BRCA support group for women, which was inspired by the late Caroline Langman, a clinical nurse specialist in genetics.
They are held in Canterbury and Maidstone.
“Attending the meetings really helped me not only understand what the surgeries involved but also to accept that it’s OK to wait until the time is right,” said Natalie.
"She is now co-host of the East Kent BRCA group, which meets monthly at the city’s Abode Hotel.
“All the women have had a BRCA 1/2 confirmed diagnosis and are at various stages of their journey,” she said.
“We have many ladies who have had all or part of their risk-reducing surgeries, others that have chosen to have regular surveillance and newly diagnosed members.
“The meetings provide a very friendly, private and non-intimidating environment where we can sit and talk over coffee.
“The group is able to provide a variety of knowledge and opinions.
"There is no right or wrong choice and we hope we can help ladies make an informed decision whatever that may be, but one that is right for them.”
BRCA1 and BRCA2 are genes that raise your cancer risk greatly if they become altered.
Having a variant BRCA gene greatly increases a woman’s chance of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
They also increase a man’s chance of developing breast cancer and prostate cancer.
High-profile celebrities, including actresses Angelina Jolie and Christina Applegate, both spoke publicly about having the gene and having their breasts removed to reduce their risk. Jolie also had her ovaries removed.