Lindsay Avner grew up experiencing the devastating reality of breast and ovarian cancer in her family. Her grandmother and great-grandmother died from cancer before she was born and her mother was treated for breast and ovarian cancer when she was only 12 years old. With that as a fact, she underwent testing at 22 to find out whether she had a mutation on the BRCA gene that is associated with an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer. The results came out positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation, which meant that she had a 55-70% chance of developing breast cancer and approximately a 40% chance of developing ovarian cancer, while in the general population the percentage is approximately 12% for breast and 1% for ovarian cancer.
Her diagnosis made Avner really proactive about her health. That’s why she decided to undergo a double mastectomy at the age of 23 to reduce her risk of breast cancer and she then started a non-profit organization called Bright Pink that focused on the prevention and early detection of breast and ovarian cancer in young women. At age 30 she already had her eggs frozen so that she would have the choice of removing her ovaries before she had children.
But the development of modern medicine gave her the chance, a year ago, to go through a new proactive measure. She decided to undergo IVF to stop the BRCA1 gene from affecting her future children. The method is based on the testing of embryos in order to detect any BRCA mutation in a process called “preimplantation genetic diagnosis.” After an IVF cycle, the resulting embryos can be tested for the BRCA gene mutation and the woman can then decide whether or not to implant that embryo.
Fertility doctors notice that the BRCA testing has led many young women to discuss their options. The emotional experience of having to wait to see if an implanted embryo successfully develops into a pregnancy is cruel enough but having the ability of freezing eggs and embryos without the BRCA mutation in a younger age is very important.
After deciding to pursue IVF, Avner went through two cycles of egg retrieval. Her egg reserve had dropped dramatically from the age 30 to 33, so her doctor advised her to start IVF immediately in order to boost her chance of having a child. The couple ended up with four viable embryos without the BRCA mutation and on September 30 their daughter was born. Avner hopes she will have another child within the next 18 months and then she will remove her ovaries. It’s a preventative measure that she is thankful her daughter will not have to face in her life.
Lucy feels blessed that after eleven deaths from breast or ovarian cancer in her family, the history will change and that’s so remarkable.