CHICAGO (CBS) — At 23, Lindsey Avner was the youngest patient nationwide to have a double mastectomy to prevent breast cancer. Her grandmother and great grandmother died of the disease before she was born, and her mother is now an 18-year cancer survivor.
When Avner tested positive for the gene mutation that increased her odds of becoming another victim, she opted for a double mastectomy. She was heralded as a pioneer by her doctors in New York.
“When you have up to an 87 percent risk of getting breast cancer, and you’re making this decision to remove healthy breasts to ensure you never develop the disease, how radical is that when your future is almost written in the stars that it’s going to come to be,” said Avner.
Avner said actress Angelina Jolie’s announcement that she underwent a preventive double mastectomy is a groundbreaking one.
“The fact that somebody like her would come out and share the news is going to inspire everyone around the country to start asking life saving questions like what can I do to prevent my risk for cancer and what can I do to be proactive with my health,” Avner said.
Avner said genetic testing isn’t for everyone, and she encouraged women to talk to their families and their doctor. She advised that women at risk should start at the beginning.
“What that means is having conversations with your family, and gathering your family’s cancer history. Who had cancer? How old were they? What kind? On both your mother’s and father’s side,” Avner said.
Bright Pink has an “Assess Your Risk” tool online that women can print out and take to their doctor.
“By no means should women the country think they should make the decision to have genetic testing. It’s a decision that has to be made based on family history and in collaboration with someone you trust,” she said.
Now, the decision to remove disease-free breasts is not nearly as controversial as it was back in 2006, when Avner had surgery. She said she has no regrets.
“I lost my grandmother and great grandmother before I was even born. I feel so fortunate every morning when I get out of the shower and I look and see the scars on my outer quadrants of my breasts, they are such a powerful reminder that I will be the first woman after generations to will not face a breast cancer diagnosis and that’s a really amazing feeling. The significance of that feeling doesn’t wain over time that’s for sure.”
Avner is the founder of Bright Pink, currently the only national non-profit organization focusing on the prevention and early detection of breast and ovarian cancer in young women.