Singapore woman has breasts, ovaries and womb removed due to faulty gene

SINGAPORE - American actress Angelina Jolie's recent revelation - she had both her breasts removed to reduce her raised risk of breast cancer from a faulty BRCA 1 gene - struck a chord with Mrs Judy Gay, 45.

In 2007, the former sales coordinator, then 38, found out she had a BRCA 2 gene mutation, which she inherited from her father and raised her risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

She opted for regular half-yearly screening and surveillance as she was not ready for preventive surgery then.

"I was still young then. I thought it was too early to remove my breasts and especially my ovaries as I didn't want to have early menopause," she said.

"I thought time was on my side, that I had a few more years to wait before doing any surgery."

In 2009, a magnetic resonance imaging scan of her breasts showed a change compared with one done six months earlier.

Three biopsies later - the first two such tests of tissue samples were not successful - doctors confirmed that she had stage 1 breast cancer in her left breast.

In 2010, she had her breasts, ovaries and womb removed, and her breasts reconstructed, in three separate operations.

Today, she has no regrets even though she is living with some side effects of the operations, including weakness in her chest area from the breast reconstruction, and osteoporosis, a result of early menopause from the removal of her ovaries.

She and her husband have no children.

She said: "At the time, my husband and I were still debating whether to have children or not. He is two years younger than I am, so he wasn't ready to have children earlier."

After they found out about her gene mutation, they decided not to have any children.

"I don't want to pass this on to my children," she said.

Her father had discovered that he had it after taking a genetic test sponsored by a government grant at the time.

He and two sisters were tested for the BRCA gene mutations after three other sisters had ovarian cancer.

Of the three, two died from it, while the third was diagnosed relatively early with stage two cancer and is still alive today.

Mrs Gay's father and one of his sisters tested positive for the gene mutation while the other sister tested negative.

When Mrs Gay went for her test in 2007, the government grant had been stopped. She paid $700 for the test herself.

"It wasn't too expensive because they already knew where to look for the mutation," she said.

One of her two brothers has also gone for the test and has tested negative. The other brother does not want to know.

"But I'm glad I found out," she said. "If not for the six-monthly screening, I may not have found out about my breast cancer early."

She had her womb removed as well so she does not have to worry about womb or cervical cancer.

"The gene mutation did not put me at higher risk of these types of cancer, but I still had some risk so I decided to remove it all at one go," she said.

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