Page last updated at 00:03 GMT, Saturday, 22 November 2008

'We shared our cancer experiences'

By Jane Elliott

Mina and Toral
Mina and Toral Shah have both had breast cancer

When Toral Shah discovered she had breast cancer and needed a mastectomy the first person she turned to was her mother, who had gone through exactly the same experience seven years earlier.

"She would always come to the hospital appointments with me as she knew how difficult it was to lose a breast," said Toral.

She said her 59-year-old mother Mina had been a tower of strength during her cancer battle.

"I never have to explain to her why I am still upset and how it affects you.

Maternal support

"It was totally a help my mother had breast cancer, because she understood how I felt all the time.

"It would have been very difficult to cope without my mum. She helped me emotionally and gave me help running my business - a gourmet catering company and cookery school.

Her issues emotionally were so different from mine
Mina Shah

"Even now she is the one person who understands.

"She obviously was much older and had already had children, but she did understand," she said." she said.

Toral, now 32, said she had even moved back home to Croydon during her illness so her parents could take care of her.

Tough battle

But Mina says that, of the two of them, Toral had the toughest battle.

"Losing a breast so young is a cruel blow.

"I was 50 when I had it and I had had my two children. She was 30 and alone.

"I was able to help her, although her issues were so different. She had a mastectomy and wanted a reconstruction, but that was not possible.

Everyone carries the BRCA 1 and 2 genes, but it is only when you inherit a faulty copy of the gene that you are at higher risk of developing certain cancers, including breast and ovarian cancer
Only 5 to 10% of the 46,000 new cases of breast cancer diagnosed each year are due to genetic causes
If you do inherit a faulty copy of the BRCA gene, you have an up to 80% higher risk of developing breast cancer than other women

"Her issues emotionally were so different from mine. I accepted it and moved forward it does not bother me that I do not have a breast," said Mina.

As the family has a history of breast cancer, with an aunt and young cousin also having the disease, Mina was genetically tested.

Mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are among the 5-10% of genetic breast cancers.

Mina was told she did not have an identifiable genetic risk, testing negative for the most common genes BRCA1 and BRCA2, but experts have advised her that there could still be a link.

Genetic risks

Research suggests that if the fault in the BRCA gene is inherited, a woman has an 80% chance of developing the disease by the age of 70.

Jackie Harris, a specialist nurse at Breast Cancer Care, said there was still a lot to learn about genetic testing.

"There are a number of families out there who have non-BRCA inherited cancers.

"But there is more and more learning going on, so they should keep in touch with their genetic counsellors in case advice changes."

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