For Women with BRCA Mutations, Prophylactic Surgery Reduces Cancer Risk
Prevention: Surgery Sharply Reduces Risk of 2 Cancers
By RONI CARYN RABIN
Published: September 6, 2010
About 1 in 400 women carry genetic mutations that put them at high risk for breast and ovarian cancer. For these women, doctors may recommend prophylactic mastectomy and oophorectomy, or removal of the ovaries — even before there is any sign of cancer.
Now a study in The Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that the surgery sharply reduces the risks of the two types of cancer.
Scientists followed 2,482 women who learned they had inherited the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations through genetic testing done between 1974 and 2008. The women were tracked through 2009.
During three years of follow-up, 7 percent of the women who did not have mastectomies developed breast cancer and 6 percent of those who retained their ovaries developed ovarian cancer. There were no breast cancers in the mastectomy group, and only 1 percent of women who had the ovarian surgery developed ovarian cancer. (These women also reduced their risk of breast cancer, the study found.)
The authors acknowledged that the protective surgery was no guarantee because some residual breast or ovarian tissue remains in the body. Still, they said it provided tremendous protection.
“It’s crucial for women to understand: this is their best chance to reduce risk,” said the senior author, Timothy R. Rebbeck, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.
“It’s very strong and nearly complete, but it’s not 100 percent,” Dr. Rebbeck continued. “If you’re at high risk, this maximizes your chances of survival.”