Miss America Contestant Opts for Double Mastectomy at Age 24

Allyn Rose - Miss AmericaAllyn Rose, 24, represented Maryland in the 2011 Miss USA pageant and finished 8th overall. When she crosses the stage again on January 12, 2013, now as Miss Washington D.C. in the Miss America Pageant, she will have a lot more than winning the crown on her mind. The national title hopeful has decided to undergo an elective double mastectomy to spare her a battle with breast cancer, a disease that claimed her mother’s life.

The beauty queen revealed her decision in an interview with People, in which she explained the decision is based on her carrying a genetic mutation that leaves her at risk for breast cancer at a young age.

Warning Signs of Breast Cancer

A Family Affair

When most young girls are worrying about prom dates, homework, and learning to drive at age 16, Allyn lost her mother to breast cancer. She said the disease first developed in her mother’s right breast at age 27.

“My mom had her right breast removed at 27, but at 47 or 48, it came back in her left breast," she said in the interview. “It was already stage three. She could have had that other breast removed, but I'm sure there was a part of her that thought she didn't want to give up this other part of herself." 

She added, “My dad said he begged her for years and years to get it removed, but she said no. It's ultimately the thing that killed her. I had to become my own mentor. I had to go pick out my prom dress by myself. I had to go to my high school graduation without my mom. She didn't see me go off to college or go on my first date or drive a car for the first time." 

Sadly, Allyn's mother isn’t the only one in the family to succumb to breast cancer.

“It's a very strange change in our genetic code. Almost all of the women in my family have passed away from it,” she told People.

Top Breast Cancer Breakthroughs in 2012

A Hollywood Connection

Allyn isn’t the only high-profile woman to elect to have her breasts removed. And she’s certainly not the only young woman to make this decision, either.

In the spring of 2008, actor Christina Applegate, then 36, also had a double mastectomy to prevent a recurrence of breast cancer. Applegate’s cancer was diagnosed in the early stages and was only in her left breast, but she elected to have both breasts removed after testing positive for the BRCA gene.

Guiliana Rancic, 37, host of “E! News” told the “Today Show” in December, 2011, that she decided to go forward with a double mastectomy over other procedures in her battle with breast cancer because “all it came down to was choosing to live and not looking over my shoulder the rest of my life."

And earlier this month Sharon Osbourne, cohost of the CBS daytime show “The Talk” and wife to rocker, Ozzy Osbourne, revealed she underwent a double mastectomy. Because Osbourne already battled cancer once (she had colon cancer in 2000), the feisty talker told Hello! Magazine the decision “was a no-brainer.”

“As soon as I found out I had the breast cancer gene, I thought ‘The odds are not in my favor.' I've had cancer before and I didn't want to live under that cloud. I decided to just take everything off and had a double mastectomy. I didn't want to live the rest of my life with that shadow hanging over me. I want to be around for a long time and be a grandmother to (son Jack’s daughter) Pearl.”

Famous Faces of Breast Cancer

The 'Breast Cancer Genes'

Having either of the “breast cancer genes” known as BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene greatly increases the risk of breast cancer, according to National Cancer Institute (NCI) estimates. The overall lifetime risk of developing breast cancer for those without the mutation is about 12.0 percent; 60 percent of women who have inherited either mutation will develop breast cancer.

Why is Rose worried about this at such a young age?

Turns out time isn’t on her side.

The Centers for Disease Control says as long as a woman doesn’t carry either BRCA gene mutation, 0.5 percent of women currently age 30 will develop breast cancer in the next 10 years. However, the NCI says women with either BRCA gene mutation have an increased risk of developing breast cancer before menopause.

Genetic testing is required to determine if a woman carries either BRCA1 or BRCA2 but both men and women are at increased risk of breast cancer if they have the genetic mutation.

14 Best Breast Cancer Awareness Videos

Life Over Body Image

Allyn says her mastectomy and subsequent reconstruction is a "very risky" plan and "not exactly seamless."  But she’s resolved it’s worth it.  

"Your skin may be damaged in a way that you will lose your nipple, or sometimes women lose all of their breast tissue," she said in the interview. “[But] Breasts don't define your life. I'm choosing life over beauty. I'm choosing to remove something that’s so iconic to my womanhood.”

To help promote awareness, Allyn’s pageant platform revolves around educating people to be proactive about their healthcare. 

“Title holders across the country get an opportunity to speak to their generation and have something they can advocate,” she said. “Being in the industry and competing in the most iconic swimsuit competition in the world, I thought to myself, 'If I were to win and have this surgery a year from now, would I be a different Miss America because I lost my breast?' No.”

The timing of her surgery coincides with the Miss America crown. If she wins in January, Allyn will have the surgery once she passes the jeweled headpiece to her successor in January 2014. If the crown eludes her, she will have her surgery at the conclusion of her reign as Miss Washington D.C. in June, 2013.

“To win the [Miss America] pageant would truly have my mother’s dreams for me come to fruition," she said. "Never once in my life did I doubt my mom's love for me or that she wouldn't do anything to have me succeed in life. Some people will never experience that kind of relationship with a parent."

When to be Tested?

Wondering if genetic counseling is for you?

Currently, there’s isn’t a guideline or standard criteria to determine who should be tested for the breast cancer gene. These risk factors are associated with likelihood of having either the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic mutation, according to the NCI:

For women who are not of Ashkenazi Jewish descent:

  • Having two first-degree relatives (mother, daughter, or sister) diagnosed with breast cancer, one of whom was diagnosed at age 50 or younger.
  • Having three or more first-degree or second-degree (grandmother or aunt) relatives diagnosed with breast cancer regardless of their age at diagnosis.
  • If you have a combination of first- and second-degree relatives diagnosed with breast cancer and ovarian cancer (one cancer type per person).
  • Having a first-degree relative with cancer diagnosed in both breasts (bilateral breast cancer).
  • A combination of two or more first- or second-degree relatives diagnosed with ovarian cancer regardless of age at diagnosis.
  • A first- or second-degree relative diagnosed with both breast and ovarian cancer regardless of age at diagnosis.
  • If breast cancer is diagnosed in a male relative.

For women of Ashkenazi Jewish descent:

  • Having any first-degree relative diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer.
  • Having two second-degree relatives on the same side of the family diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer.

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