A BRAVE young woman is set to undergo a double mastectomy at the age of just 26 after facing a battle with her doctor for the right to be tested for a harmful genetic mutation.
Kim Skirving was eventually diagnosed as having the same gene as that famously carried by actor Angelina Jolie.
Don’t get me wrong, I am scared, but I feel like it is the right thing to do for myself and my family.Kim Skirving
The Hollywood star took the radical decision to have both breasts removed two years ago after she discovered she carried the BRCA1 gene variant, which can increase the risk of cancer by up to 85 per cent.
The two gene mutations, BRCA1 and BRCA2, can be passed down through either parent as everyone inherits two copies of every gene, one from their mother and one from their father.
Kim, from Corstorphine, said she was made to feel foolish for requesting the simple blood test in her early 20s, although five of her aunts and one of her cousins were all diagnosed with breast cancer.
She said: “I had a lot of difficulties in getting an appointment for genetic testing which I thought would put people off.
“I took it to my doctor, who did not understand why I wanted to be tested because of my age. It made me feel silly for having suggested it.”
When her doctor eventually agreed in November 2014, Kim went for a test and found she carried the BRCA1 mutation, which she had inherited from her father.
Her three sisters were also tested, but only Kim and her older sister Leigh, 27, were found to have the gene.
Kim has made the brave decision to have a double mastectomy later this month.
Kim, who is due to get married this year, said: “I was shocked but it has been the elephant in the room for so long that I kind of expected it.
“Lots of people get breast cancer but this is actually a time when I can do something about it. I wouldn’t judge someone who didn’t want to do this but for me, I know I have to. Don’t get me wrong, I am scared, but I feel like it is the right thing to do for myself and my family.”
Edinburgh-based breast cancer expert Professor Mike Dixon said patients have often complained of difficulties in being referred for screening by GPs and said more needed to be done to de-mystify the issue.
He said: “I think the Angelina Jolie episode has really heightened people’s awareness of the issue. It’s not quite the stigma it used to be.”
Criteria for testing women have changed to allow more women to be tested, which means more are coming forward to discuss mastectomy at a younger age.
Patients as young as 21 have attended Prof Dixon’s clinic at the Western General Hospital, the UK’s foremost breast centre.
He warned that the surgery was not an easy process and that those who have the gene will not necessarily get cancer.
Mary Allison, director for Scotland at Breast Cancer Now, said: “Family history assessment is complicated but, broadly speaking, an increased risk of developing breast cancer due to family history is usually based on two factors; the number of family members with the disease in your family and the age that those family members were diagnosed. How closely related those family members are to you is also important.
“We would urge anyone who is worried about cancers in their family to speak to their doctor, who will be able to help to explore family history, assess breast cancer risk and decide whether or not to refer patients on to a specialist to ensure the best possible care.”