Latest News

 Stay up-to-date on the latest cancer research, fundraising news, and general news from Peter Mac. 


Sarah-Jane from The Block shares her cancer story

09 October 2023

To mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month, 'The Block' star Sarah-Jane Wilson opens up about her family's history of breast cancer and life after preventative surgery at Peter Mac. 

Tom and SJSarah-Jane and husband Tom

Sarah-Jane and her sister, Alana, were only children when they watched their mum, Tanya, battle breast cancer - not once, but twice.

“It affects the person that has the cancer, but it’s a knock-on effect”, says Sarah-Jane. “Everybody feels it.”

It was almost 30 years ago when Tanya first found a mass in her breast. At the age of 36, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, which had spread to the lymph nodes under her arm.

Tanya would go on to fight and defeat breast cancer twice, becoming a tireless advocate for breast cancer awareness. But there was more difficult news to come for Tanya and her family.

Sarah Jane with Tanya and AlanaTanya with daughters Sarah-Jane (L) and Alana (R)

In the family

Tanya learned she carried the BRCA1 gene mutation. Carriers of this rare genetic abnormality have an increased risk of developing breast cancer, and often at a younger age. There is also a 50/50 chance they will pass the gene on to their children.

“I had this huge amount of guilt”, says Tanya.

“It still makes me upset - that I had given [my daughters] this gene mutation that meant that they would have such a high risk of developing breast cancer.”

Professor Paul James, Clinical Geneticist and Director of the Familial Cancer Centre at Peter Mac, reassured Tanya that she should feel no guilt at all.

“It’s absolutely critical information to share", said Professor James. "Although it’s confronting information, there’s nothing like having that kind of advanced warning.”

Tanya waited until Sarah-Jane and Alana were adults before breaking the news to them. 

“I was so nervous about telling them”, says Tanya. “I didn’t tell them - I took them to the doctors and got the doctor to tell them!”

Sarah-Jane remembers waiting for the blood test results to see if she was a BRCA1 carrier like her mum.

"I kind of prepared myself for the worst, because I am my mother’s daughter in all senses," says Sarah-Jane.

"I thought the test would come back positive, and it did."

Sarah Jane and Tanya on the couchSarah-Jane: "I am my mother's daughter, in all senses."

A quick decision

Studies show that one in 200 Australian women carry the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation that can increase the risk of developing breast cancer by up to 70%.

But Sarah-Jane was not going to let the odds dictate her future.

She was referred to the Familial Cancer Centre at Peter Mac, which combines clinical and laboratory research to unravel the intricate connections between genetics and cancer risk.

Clinicians presented her with treatment options, including a preventative double mastectomy – a surgical procedure where both breasts are removed.

For Sarah-Jane, the decision to undergo surgery was a quick one.

"I've had a parent whose had cancer - I've seen it – and I don't want my daughter to go through that. So, I didn't really think about it at all" said Sarah-Jane. 

The decision may have been a quick one, but with a long wait list, getting the mastectomy was a slow process.

Tom and Sarah Jane on The Block 4Fan-favourites Tom and Sarah-Jane on the set of The Block 


After five years on the list, Sarah-Jane received the life-changing call that she’d been waiting for.

Life had already changed in so many ways. Having once delayed surgery while pregnant with her firstborn, she was now a mother to daughter, Cleo.  

Sarah-Jane and her husband, Tom, had also found themselves in the public spotlight, having won the hearts of millions of Australians on hit reality TV show, The Block.

The day the call came, the couple were on the brink of auctioning the five-bedroom country home they’d spent three gruelling months transforming.

"It's been a long time in the making – I've been on this list for five-plus years”, Sarah-Jane shared with fans on social media. “The day before The Block auction, they called me: 'We've got a spot for you!”

Within a fortnight of the nail-biting auction, Sarah-Jane swapped her hard hat and high vis for a hospital gown and was admitted to Peter Mac for surgery.

“I just started getting really scared”, she said. “But I just had to be brave.”

Emotions were running high for Tom as well.

“I remember saying goodbye to her as she was getting wheeled off”, Tom says. “I had a little bit of a teary in the lift heading down to the car, and I thought to myself, what a superstar.”

Sarah Jane before surgerySarah-Jane prepares to go into surgery at Peter Mac

Led by Dr Holly Keane and Head of Peter Mac’s Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Unit, Dr Angela Webb, Sarah-Jane’s double mastectomy and breast reconstruction was a success.

Candidly sharing her journey on social media to help others going through a similar experience, Sarah-Jane revealed the surgery resulted in the tissue in her breast being removed alongside some nerves, leaving little to no feeling in the area surrounding her nipple.

“Which is okay, as I wasn’t much into nipple foreplay anyway”, she joked.

 Sarah Jane with Tom and CleoTom and Sarah-Jane with daughter, Cleo

A bright future

Familial cancer research has paved the way for early detection, targeted interventions, and ultimately, a reduction in the impact of hereditary cancers on generations to come.

“The world is my oyster now!” says Sarah-Jane. “I can do whatever I want… except retire.” 

Earlier this year, five months after her surgery, Sarah-Jane shared the exciting news that she and Tom will be welcoming a new baby in October 2023. 

"We feel so blessed and are already so in love", she said. 

"I won't be able to breastfeed but I am okay with that. Tom will have no excuse not to do the night feeds!"

For every 100 women who develop breast cancer, it’s estimated that 10 to 15 have an inherited gene mutation. Of those, Sarah-Jane and her family are amongst the 40 per cent who are able to learn the type of mutation they carry through today's advanced tests.

For the other 60 per cent, it remains a mystery. But researchers at Peter Mac’s Familial Cancer Centre are determined to uncover the answers.

Sarah Jane and CleoSarah-Jane: “I don’t know if Cleo carries the gene. But one day when she is mature enough to understand it all, I will let her decide if she wants to be tested and be there to support her the whole way!” 

World-leading research

Professor Paul James says new information is becoming available about the genetic links to breast cancer.

“Ten years ago we knew about BRCA1 and BRCA2 and they are still the most important genes when it comes to breast cancer,” Prof James said.

“Recently, the list of genes that can contribute to breast cancer has started to grow and we can now offer a test for 8 to 10 different genes that are involved in the risk of breast cancer.”

Researchers at Peter Mac are using the latest DNA sequencing technology together with clinical and biological information to look for new types of mutations that drive familial breast cancer risk.

“Our goal is to expand the number of gene mutations known to contribute to familial breast cancer risk and, in doing so, help more people to understand why cancer occurs in their family so that they can access now well-established pathways to reduce their risk," Professor James said.

Professor CampbellPictured: Professor Ian Campbell

While more research is needed before this information can be used in the clinic, Professor James and colleague Professor Ian Campbell have identified over 40 suspect gene mutations and associations that may contribute to familial cancer risk.

“The major drivers of familial breast cancer risk – mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes – were identified in the 1990s and they were relatively easy to spot because they affect a wide number of families,” Professor Campbell said.

“We now have the power to search for genetic drivers of familial breast cancer risk that will be much rarer in the population, and we expect there may be many dozens of these, and each will be responsible for increasing breast cancer risk in only a small number of families.”

Donate today to help Peter Mac researchers continue their vital work to find more genetic links to breast cancer. 

With your support, we can help detect more cancers at an earlier stage, prevent more cancers before they occur, and give all patients the best chance of a cure.

Donate now


You might also be interested in: 

Sarah-Jane discusses her preventative mastectomy on A Current Affair  ↗ 

Finding the genetic links to Breast Cancer  ↗ 



Lily was only 5 when she was diagnosed with brain cancer

Help Peter Mac researchers discover kinder, safer therapies for kids

Read Lily's story


Please review our Privacy Policy for details about how we use and store your information.