Applegate, 36, just recently announced her breast cancer diagnosis but said she was first diagnosed in April 2008 with cancer in one breast. She had two lumpectomies and could have been a candidate for chemotherapy, radiation, or more surgery. However, she decided to have both breasts removed in a preventive procedure known as a prophylactic double mastectomy. She underwent the surgery three weeks ago.
The decision was difficult, she said Tuesday in an interview with ABC News' Good Morning America, but greatly decreased the chance of her cancer returning. “This was the choice that I made," she said, "and it was a tough one."
Applegate’s mother battled cancer twice, so Applegate started routine testing for breast cancer when she was 30. She also was tested for the breast cancer susceptibility genes and found she was a carrier of BRCA1 gene, which increases cancer risk.
MRI screening for breast cancer
Applegate credits her own vigilance as well as a doctor-ordered magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan for saving her life.
“If this had been caught a year from now, or when I was 40, I probably wouldn’t be able to live through this,” she said in the interview. “An MRI is so advanced, and it can see cells so you don’t have to wait until you have a mammogram, where you’re just finding tumors. You’re seeing cells, and they can stop that at that point.“
Applegate is starting a program to raise money to help high-risk women pay for MRIs and BRCA testing, which can cost $2,000 to $3,000 each.
Reconstructive surgery comes next
Applegate says she is now completely clear of breast cancer and that the cancer had not spread.
“I’m definitely not going to die from breast cancer,” she said, joking, “Maybe a bus.”
Applegate is scheduled to have reconstructive surgery over the next eight months. “I’m going to have the best boobs in the nursing home,” she said. “I’m going to be the envy of all the ladies around the bridge table.”
According to the program, Applegate said she did want to have a family someday, but that her choice of prophylactic mastectomy was not an effort to avoid chemotherapy. (Some breast cancer treatments can affect fertility in young women.)
By Theresa Tamkins