Healthy young nursery worker has double mastectomy after finding she has breast cancer gene

Fiona Luscombe has had a double mastectomy after both her mother and grandfather died following a battle with breast cancer.

The 23-year-old had elective surgery to remove both breasts after discovering she had the hereditary BRCA2 cancer gene.

The abnormal gene is passed from parent to child and caused Fiona’s mother, Brenda, and grandfather, Frank, to develop breast cancer.

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Doctors told Fiona, who discovered she had BRCA2 in October 2011 told her she wouldn’t know anymore until further scans when she turned 30.

But rather than wait until she might be diagnosed later in life she decided to have both breasts removed as a precaution.

Her decision echoes that of former pop star Michelle Heaton, 33, who last week had a double mastectomy after finding she had BRCA2.

Nursery teacher Fiona, from Plymouth explained: “They talked me through the process, took my blood, and I received the results a month later.

“I was devastated, totally gutted and it took a long time to get my head around it. As soon as I got the test through I couldn’t sit on it.

“I’ve grown up with cancer really. I think it’s harder mentally than I thought it would be but I couldn’t sit on it, I had to sort myself out.”

[Related: Bernie Nolan on her new cancer battle]

The operation was carried out at St Michael’s Hospital in Hayle, Cornwall, nine weeks ago.

Fiona’s sister Jenny, 26,  who had previously told she did not have the cancer gene, came back to the UK from Spain to look after her sibling.

Fiona revealed: “It went really well but it was really daunting. Both breasts were removed at the same time. They removed all the tissue and put the implants in."

She said she had already spoken to her fiancé Chris Warn, a window cleaner, about the operation before she took the test.

Fiona said: “He was around when my mum died as well and so he knew about my family. He was very supportive - just saying 'I'm happy as long as you're happy'.”

Fiona was aged just three when mum Brenda was diagnosed with breast cancer which she later recovered from.

But it returned 13 years later in her lymph nodes, liver and then in her bones and Brenda died of liver cancer in August 2007 aged 48.

Fiona said: “Mum had it when she was 32 years old. I’m 23, I just couldn’t risk it.”

[Related: Smart bra could fight cancer by detecting tumours]

Her grandfather, Frank Ross was diagnosed with cancer of the left breast in his 70s. Although he had gone through a successful operation he died, suffering from several health issues, when he was 86.

Fiona, who was 18 when he passed away, said: “I don't remember much about when he was diagnosed. It’s unusual - only one in 100,000 men in England are affected by breast cancer.”

It is estimated that around 300 new cases of breast cancer in men are diagnosed each year in England. The average age of diagnosis is 71.

Fiona's father, Malcolm Luscombe retired from his fire officer job when Brenda was diagnosed and said he was “very proud” of his daughter.

The 63-year-old said: “I think the hereditary problem goes back beyond her grandfather. It was a shock when he was diagnosed and just goes to show men can get it too. It was big decision for Fiona to have this operation - a big step.”

Fiona is now using her brave decision as a way of raising awareness for others who face hereditary breast cancers.

The nursery worker said: “I’m trying to raise awareness for people with hereditary breast cancer and the National Breast Cancer Hereditary Helpline because it's not very well known.

“I’m trying to do all I can by handing out leaflets and giving people the opportunity to speak to someone who has had their breasts removed and been through it.”

BRCA1 and BRCA2 are genes that have been shown to play a role in hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.

People with a strong family history of some cancers are invited to have more regular screening than people who don’t seem at increased risk.

Breast cancer is often thought of as a condition that only affects women, but men - like Fiona’s grandfather Frank - can develop it.

Fiona has now agreed to be the Devon representative for National Breast Cancer Hereditary Helpline.