Decision For Life | Local woman goes under the knife to beat cancer gene
LAS VEGAS (KSNV News3LV) —
At 37, Las Vegas local Jaymie Cutting is in her prime. She’s a wife and a mom, and she’s completely healthy.
Two years ago, when she found out her mother Cindy had a rare form of cancer, she was prepared for the tough road ahead. What she wasn’t prepared for was a decision her mother’s cancer would force her to make about her own body.
"I didn't think that I would have to make this decision, but one of the reasons it was easy was watching what my mom's been through," said Cutting.
Jaymie’s mother Cindy had Primary Peritoneal Cancer, also known as PPC. It is a rare disease similar to ovarian cancer that affects the thin lining that covers the organs in the body. It is a type of cancer that raises big, red flags for doctors.
"Peritoneal cancer has a likelihood of being due to a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation," said Anna Victorine, the only Genetic Counselor in Las Vegas.
Victorine specializes in cancer.
"Within the past 5 to 10, especially past 5 years, we've discovered a wealth of additional genes that can pose a risk of BC,” she said. "The BRCA1 and BRCA2 are the big players. They're the famous ones."
Widespread information about the BRCA1 mutation became available in 2005, when actress Angelina Jolie announced that she was a carrier of the gene, a defect passed down to her from her mother. Jolie elected to have both breasts removed after testing positive.
It was the same situation staring at Jaymie Cutting and her mother Cindy.
"When she got tested, she tested positive and there's a 50 percent chance that I would be positive. So, I got tested and I'm positive. The doctor told me I had up to 40 percent chance for ovarian cancer and a 40 to 80 percent chance of getting breast cancer," said Cutting.
BRCA1 is a gene everyone has in their body. Its job is to protect the body from cancer, but when the gene doesn’t work properly it can have the reverse effect.
“It controls cell division. All of our cells need to grow and divide. But, when they are growing and dividing too rapidly we can have uncontrolled cell division and that’s what causes cancer,” said Victorine.
It’s what happened to Cindy, and what could happen to Jaymie.
“That was by far the hardest, knowing she inherited this from me,” said Cindy Larson, Jaymie’s mother.
Not everyone who has the mutation will get cancer. That’s why deciding what to do next is extremely difficult. Remove perfectly healthy body parts, or take the risk of getting cancer down the line?
“We know if a woman carries a BRCA1 or 2 mutation for instance, if they choose to remove their breast, they can reduce their risk of BC by over 80 percent,” said Victorine. “Some women will choose to have their ovaries and fallopian tubes removed, which is called a bi-lateral salpingo-oophorectomy. If they do that, they decrease the risk of BC by about 50 percent and they decrease their risk of ovarian cancer by 90 percent or more. So these are potentially life-saving decisions they are making.”
It was those odds that helped Jaymie make up her mind.
“I’m completely healthy. I had a hysterectomy at age 37, and now I’m considering a double mastectomy,” said Cutting. “With ovarian cancer there’s really no screening. Once you are diagnosed with it, it’s usually in an advanced stage and that’s why I wanted to get the surgery done first and then later on I might still get the mastectomy. But there are screenings that you can do to detect breast cancer at an early stage.”
Since Jaymie already had her children, her decision was a little easier to make. But not all women are that lucky, and it’s a sacrifice they have to consider.
There are other options for women who still want to become mothers down the road. Some decide to do egg preservation and then remove their ovaries. Others consider adoption.
It’s not just women who can be affected by the BRCA mutations. They can cause cancer in men as well.
“There’s an increased risk of prostate cancer, male breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, and melanoma,” said Victorine. “The best thing a man can do, if he carries one of these, is to start prostate screening earlier.”
In the end, Jaymie and her mother say they have no regrets.
“Would you get on a plane that has a 40 to 60 percent chance of crashing? No. And that’s what made the decision easier for me. I want to eliminate that risk as much as possible,” said Cutting.