Ingrid Copperman had worked for cancer organisations for years, so when she started experiencing symptoms of ovarian cancer she was able to recognise them.
Luckily, Ingrid’s GP referred her to a specialist immediately. Following a series of ultrasounds, tests, CT and MRI scans, an ovarian cyst was found on her uterus and diagnosed as a borderline ovarian tumour. Surgery followed and Ingrid underwent a full hysterectomy and oophorectomy.
Following her operation, Ingrid was given the news that cancer was found on her ovaries, womb, fallopian tubes and omentum. She was diagnosed with Stage 3 high-grade serous ovarian cancer and proceeded immediately with intensive chemotherapy.
“I was eager to start treatment and fight the b***er,” Ingrid says, “thankfully there are many options available and I knew from my work that a diagnosis wasn’t necessarily a death sentence.”
With Ingrid’s diagnosis came an added complication. Genetic testing revealed that she carries a hereditary BRCA gene mutation and has a 50 per cent chance of developing breast cancer in her lifetime, and an increased risk of ovarian cancer returning. In the Ashkenazi Jewish population around 1 in 40 people are carriers of the mutation – ten times higher than the average.
Women with a BRCA gene mutation have around a 35-60 per cent chance of developing ovarian cancer and an up to 85 per cent chance of developing breast cancer within their lifetime. The genetic mutation can also be passed down by men and causes an increased risk of prostate and pancreatic cancer. Around 1,200 cases of ovarian cancer each year in the UK are linked to the BRCA mutation; cases which could potentially be prevented through genetic screening and subsequent risk-reducing measures.
Although this news was concerning, Ingrid is determined to see the positives.
“I feel empowered,” she says. “Knowing I have the mutation will help determine my treatment should the ovarian cancer return. It also means my sister and niece can be tested and take potentially life-saving preventative measures if they have it too.”
There have been huge developments in the treatment and prevention of breast cancer that have seen survival rates rise, however there is still no screening programme for ovarian cancer.
Ovarian Cancer Action funds the work of Professor Ahmed at Oxford University who has made some exciting discoveries including SOX2, a protein that is seventeen times more prevalent in the fallopian tubes of women with ovarian cancer – or those with a BRCA gene mutation. This discovery could lead to the development of a screening tool to identify the disease before symptoms appear in women with a BRCA gene mutation.
Ingrid’s advice to anyone in the Jewish community concerned about their risk of ovarian cancer is simple: “Find out if you have a BRCA gene mutation – prevention has to be preferable to the treatment I’ve endured. A screening tool for ovarian cancer could save the lives of thousands of women who are at risk and I feel strongly that our community’s philanthropists should commit some of their funds to developing this.”