Sarah Ferguson’s health history revealed – from her ‘scary’ breast cancer diagnosis and mastectomy to ‘distressing’ melanoma detection

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  • Duchess revealed skin cancer diagnosis after being treated for breast cancer 
  • She urged fans to be ‘be diligent’ and check moles after ‘distressing’ diagnosis

Sarah Ferguson last night revealed her shock skin cancer diagnosis, which comes only a few months after she was treated for breast cancer.

The Duchess of York, 64, had a number of moles removed while undergoing breast reconstruction surgery last year. One was found to be malignant.

The mother-of-two was described as being in ‘good spirits’ after the ‘distressing’ news.

Following her diagnosis with malignant melanoma — the fifth most common cancer in the UK — she has urged fans to ‘be diligent’ and check their moles. 

Here, MailOnline details the Duchess’ health history. 

In June 2023, it emerged that the Duchess had been diagnosed with breast cancer and had undergone a successful single mastectomy

Speaking on her podcast Tea Talks with the Duchess and Sarah, Sarah Ferguson, 64, in July she said she didn't feel she had been 'brave' or 'courageous'

Speaking on her podcast Tea Talks with the Duchess and Sarah, Sarah Ferguson, 64, in July she said she didn’t feel she had been ‘brave’ or ‘courageous’

Breast cancer diagnosis

In June 2023, it emerged that the Duchess had been diagnosed with breast cancer and had undergone a successful single mastectomy at King Edward VII’s Hospital in London.

Her cancer nightmare began in the spring, when a routine appointment in London for a mammogram detected something was seriously wrong before the Coronation.

The test in early May revealed a ‘shadow’ in her breast.

A source close to the duchess told Mail on Sunday: ‘Most people usually associate breast cancer with a lump but that’s not always the case.

The Duchess spoke about how Beatrice and Eugenie had responded to her breast cancer diagnosis, saying it had been 'scary' for the whole family

The Duchess spoke about how Beatrice and Eugenie had responded to her breast cancer diagnosis, saying it had been ‘scary’ for the whole family 

‘A lump can be detected by the patient, but this was a “shadow”, which can go undetected because it’s a wider spread of cancerous cells that can be picked up through screening.

‘In Sarah’s case, a biopsy was taken from the shadowy area of tissue and a few days later the results came back to confirm the diagnosis – breast cancer.’

Due to the size of the area affected a lumpectomy was ruled out and Sarah was strongly advised to go ahead with a single mastectomy.

Doctors said a mastectomy would eradicate the shadow of cancerous cells across the breast.

The duchess was said to be devastated but determined to press ahead with a mastectomy as soon as possible, telling friends she had ‘no choice’ but to go through with the op.

She thanked Christina Choy who carried out the operation and all the medical team who worked tirelessly to help her

She thanked Stuart James who carried out the operation and all the medical team who worked tirelessly to help her

The duchess thanked the two incredible surgeons Christina Choy and Stuart James who carried out the operation and all the medical team who worked tirelessly to help her

Christina Choy was the surgeon who carried out the mastectomy.

Speaking on her podcast Tea Talks with the Duchess and Sarah in July, Sarah said she didn’t feel she had been ‘brave’ or ‘courageous’.

She spoke about how Beatrice and Eugenie had responded to her diagnosis, saying: ‘I think it’s scary for any family member out there, you really start to look at your own demise. It’s a wake up call, and you think, how am I going to deal with this?’ 

Once the mastectomy was complete, consultant plastic surgeon Stuart James, who was once hailed as one of the country’s top breast doctors by Tatler magazine, then took over, performing a breast reconstruction with the ‘DIEP flap’ technique. 

The special procedure is so complex that only highly skilled surgeons are allowed to attempt it.

The 64-year-old was diagnosed with the disease and underwent a successful single mastectomy at King Edward VII's Hospital in London

The 64-year-old was diagnosed with the disease and underwent a successful single mastectomy at King Edward VII’s Hospital in London

It involves making an incision in the abdomen and taking fat from the stomach to form a new breast.

Experts say this can take more than six hours because it involves microvascular surgery which involves cutting and then re-joining delicate 2mm blood vessels.

After the operation, a friend of the duchess, said: ‘The surgery was very long – getting on for eight hours – and it was more involved than people think. 

‘Today, the message she wants to get out is that she is very grateful to those who saved her and she feels very lucky to be alive.’

Malignant melanoma diagnosis 

Last night the Duchess revealed she is battling skin cancer.

She had several moles removed during reconstructive surgery following her mastectomy in June. 

But one mole was identified as cancerous.  

A spokesman for Sarah, Duchess of York said: ‘Following her diagnosis with an early form of breast cancer this summer, Sarah, Duchess of York has now been diagnosed with malignant melanoma.

‘Her dermatologist asked that several moles were removed and analysed at the same time as the Duchess was undergoing reconstructive surgery following her mastectomy, and one of these has been identified as cancerous.

‘She is undergoing further investigations to ensure that this has been caught in the early stages.’

Sarah Ferguson has been diagnosed with malignant melanoma. Pictured: The Duchess of York at Christmas Morning Service at Sandringham Church

Sarah Ferguson has been diagnosed with malignant melanoma. Pictured: The Duchess of York at Christmas Morning Service at Sandringham Church

The spokesperson added that having another diagnosis so soon after treatment for breast cancer is ‘distressing’, but she remains in ‘good spirits’. 

‘The Duchess wants to thank the entire medical team which has supported her, particularly her dermatologist whose vigilance ensured the illness was detected when it was,’ the spokesperson added. 

‘She believes her experience underlines the importance of checking the size, shape, colour and texture and emergence of new moles that can be a sign of melanoma.’

The Duchess is set to be treated by Dr Andrew Furness, a consultant medical oncologist at Royal Marsden Hospital in London, as well as Catherine Borysiewicz, a consultant dermatologist at King Edward VII Hospital in London.

What is malignant melanoma? 

Malignant melanoma is a serious form of skin cancer that begins in melanocytes, cells found in the upper layer of skin that produce melanin, which gives skin its colour.

While less common that other types of skin cancer, it is more dangerous because of its ability to spread to other organs more rapidly if it is not treated at an early stage.

Symptoms

A new mole or a change in an existing mole may be signs of melanoma.

Melanomas can appear anywhere on your body, but they’re more common in areas that are often exposed to the sun.

Some rarer types can affect the eyes, soles of the feet, palms of the hands or genitals.

Check your skin for any unusual changes. Use a mirror or ask a partner or friend to check any areas you cannot see.

In particular, look for: 

  • Moles with an uneven shape or edges 
  • Moles with a mix of colours 
  • Large moles – melanomas often tend to be more than 6mm wide 
  • Moles that change size, shape or colour over time

Causes

Ultraviolet (UV) light is the most common cause of melanoma. It comes from the sun and is used in sunbeds.

Melanoma is more common in older people, but younger people can also get it.

You’re also more likely to get melanoma if you have:

  • Pale skin that burns easily in the sun 
  • Red or blonde hair 
  • Blue or green eyes 
  • A large number of freckles or moles 
  • Had a lot of sun exposure and you’ve had sunburn a lot in the past 
  • Used sunbeds a lot 
  • A history of skin cancer in your family or you’ve had skin cancer before

If you have black or brown skin, you have a lower chance of getting melanoma, but you can still get it. 

 Prevention

Staying safe in the sun is the best way to lower your chance of getting skin cancer (both melanoma and non-melanoma). 

Do the following:

  • Stay out of the sun during the hottest part of the day (11am to 3pm in the UK)
  • Keep your arms and legs covered and wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses that provide protection against ultraviolet (UV) rays
  • Use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 and at least 4-star UVA protection – make sure you reapply it regularly
  • Make sure babies and children are protected from the sun – their skin is much more sensitive than adult skin

Treatment 

Melanoma skin cancer can often be treated. The treatment you have will depend on where it is, if it has spread and your general health.

Surgery is the main treatment for melanoma. Radiotherapy, medicines and chemotherapy are also sometimes used.

Surgery could involve removing the melanoma and an area of healthy skin around it, swollen lymph nodes if the cancer has spread to them and other parts of the body if it has spread to them.

If a large part of skin has to be removed, a skin graft might be needed which could see kin taken from another part of the body to cover the area where the melanoma was.

Radiotherpay is sometimes used to reduce the size of large melanomas and help control and relieve symptoms.

Targeted medicines and immotherapy are used to treat melanomas that can’t be dealt with by surgery, or have spread to lymph glands or other parts of the body.

Chemotherapy, which kills cancer cells, is sometimes used to treat advanced melanoma when it has spread to another part of the body. It does not work as well as other treatments, but can be used if you are unable to have them.

How dangerous is it?

Generally for people with melanoma in England:

  • almost all people (almost 100%) will survive their melanoma for 1 year or more after they are diagnosed
  • around 90 out of every 100 people (around 90%) will survive their melanoma for 5 years or more after diagnosis
  • more than 85 out of every 100 people (more than 85%) will survive their melanoma for 10 years or more after they are diagnosed

Sources: NHS, the Skin Cancer Foundation and Cancer Research UK

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