But former Liberty X singer, Michelle Heaton, has just discovered that on top of those frightening odds she has a much higher chance of contracting the disease and may need to undergo radical surgery as a preventative measure.
In an interview with OK! magazine the 33-year-old (who has a baby daughter, Faith, with husband Hugh Hanley) says she was devastated by the news that she has inherited a gene that makes her more susceptible to cancer.
“I have an 80% chance of getting ovarian cancer or breast cancer — and that’s on top of everybody else’s one-in-three chance,” she said.
“I’ve got to have an operation and we’ve got some decisions to make — whether I should have a double mastectomy and if I should have my ovaries removed to reduce the risks. We’re going to have some counselling sessions before we make our minds up. I’ve got my first mammogram soon.”
Naomi Fitzgibbon of the Irish Cancer Society confirms that women who have the same BRCA2 gene as the English singer are more likely to develop cancer; but if the gene is detected early, preventative surgery is an option.
“BRCA2 is a faulty gene which unfortunately will increase someone’s chance of developing breast cancer by up to 85%,” she says. “It is also linked to ovarian cancer and in many cases women are advised to have a mastectomy and their ovaries removed to improve chances of survival.
“Sometimes the procedure doesn’t eradicate the risk of cancer by 100% as there may be a little bit left behind, but nine out of ten times, it works.”
Fitzgibbon says if multiple members of a family develop breast cancer, blood relatives may be tested for the presence of a faulty gene and, if this happens, counselling is vital.
“If someone has two or more first degree relatives who have had breast cancer under the age of 50, they may be a carrier of BRCA2 and should be tested,” she says.
“If tests reveal they are carrying this gene, then surgery would reduce the risk of developing cancer by 90%. But before someone goes for genetic testing they will be offered counselling, and I would advise everyone to avail of this service before having any procedures done as the outcome can be very traumatic.
“Some people may decide to have a risk-reducing procedure such as surgery, while others may decide to bide their time. If this is the case, they will be watched and screened regularly by their doctor.
But... there is no right or wrong way to deal with this. Finding out you have the BRCA2 gene is a very emotional discovery and everyone deals with it in their own way.”
¦ For more information visit www.cancer.ie or call 1800 200 700