An 11-year-old schoolboy has become the first child in Britain to undergo a mastectomy. Surgeons in Birmingham, U.K., removed the right pectoral muscle of Lewis Deakin, who suffers from arteriovenous malformations (AVM)—a rare condition in which benign tumors grow in the arteries of his chest.
The malformations, which affect approximately 300,000 Americans, see abnormal blood vessels connect directly with a venous drainage network, instead of a capillary bed existing in between the arteries and veins. This can cause hemorrhages, which affect four out of every 100 AVM sufferers in the U.S. each year. It may result in seizures, strokes, or death.
For Lewis, his case of AVM was diagnosed after tumors began growing in his chest three years ago. After undergoing 15 surgeries over the past two years, he is still subject to regular health checks, and is due to have a new growth in his chest tested this month.
“I would just crumble if it was me but Lewis is really good,” said Victoria, his mother. “It was a really big lump on his chest and it even stretched out his clothes. One teacher thought he had a beanbag up his top. As he gets bigger they will be able to reconstruct his chest,” she explained.
AVM and children undergoing mastectomies is an issue few seem to know about, she adds. “You would look at Lewis and think there is nothing wrong with him but there’s a lot wrong unfortunately. I don’t think people really know about this condition…There’s no awareness or advice for people living with it except on Facebook.”
Last month, 8-year-old Chrissy Turner from Utah had a mastectomy in order to remove a rare form of breast cancer from her lymph nodes. Secretory breast carcinoma, which makes up less than 1 percent of breast cancer cases, mostly occurs in under-30s, and requires aggressive treatment due to its propensity for both spreading and recurring.
Mastectomies for youngsters, while still uncommon, are more prevalent in the U.S. than the U.K., as Diane Ebeling, who wrote on Chrissy’s GoFundMe page, can attest. “I was 18 months old when I had a radical mastectomy in 1970,” she writes. “While mine was not due to cancer, but rather the result of a cyst bursting internally, I can relate to growing up without a breast…I know firsthand the difficulty this presents to a young girl.”
Mastectomies have become the preferred option for breast cancer treatment in America, with more women opting for that surgery, as opposed to the previously favored lumpectomy (where the lump, and not the breast itself, is removed). A breast cancer clinic in Manchester, U.K., described the “Angelina effect” they had seen after Angelina Jolie’s double mastectomy announcement caused the rate of preventative surgeries there to rise by more than 100 percent. The surgery affects 5.6 percent of men in America, too.
Lewis has been making the best of his condition, though, using his scars as a means of impressing the ladies. “He was a bit daunted by it all at first and he wouldn’t show anyone the scar,” his father, Wayne, said. “But now he tells all the girls at school ‘I’ve been bitten by a shark’. He says it’s a real pulling machine!”