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Preventive Surgery Reduces Breast, Ovarian Cancer Risk

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New research has shown that women who have a familial history of early breast cancer can significantly reduce their chances of developing the disease by having their breasts removed.  Similarly, those at higher probability of developing ovarian cancer can mitigate that risk by having their ovaries and fallopian tubes surgically removed.

The genetic mutations responsible for those cancers, referred to as BRCA1 and BRCA2, account for 10-20% of all cases of breast and ovarian cancers, according to the Journal of American Medicine, which is currently publishing the study. 
 
Specifically, those who carry the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations have a 56%-84% higher risk of developing breast cancer. 

Or put another way, in a group of 100 women who do not carry the mutations, 12 will develop the breast cancer.  Conversely, in a group of 100 women who carry either mutation, between 30 and 90 will develop the disease, according to the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

The mutations also play a significant role in the development of ovarian cancer. Those carrying BRCA1 have a 36%-63% greater likelihood of developing ovarian cancer, while women with BRCA2 have a 27% higher risk. 

Details of the Research

Dr. Susan M. Domcheck of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia led a team of colleagues who studied 2,482 genetically at-risk women who chose to have prophylactic surgery with those who preferred frequent cancer screenings.  Those screenings consisted of yearly mammograms, MRIS, trans-vaginal ultrasounds every 6-12 months, along with CA-125 blood testing.

Because prophylactic surgery cannot completely remove all breast tissue, there’s still a chance that after surgery, a woman might develop cancerous cells in the remaining tissue.  However, during the three year follow-up of the current study, none of the women who had double mastectomies developed breast cancer; 7% of those who relied on screenings did develop it.  Those who had their ovaries and fallopian tubes removed had similar results.

Weighing the Options

Per the Susan G. Komen website, younger women can significantly increase their lifespan by opting for the breast cancer surgery.  However, the Foundation recommends that younger, at risk women should be aware that there are psychological issues that will likely have to be dealt with; for this reason, opting for the surgery should be considered on a case by case basis.
Younger women who decide to have their ovaries and fallopian tubes removed need to know that they will likely develop symptoms of early menopause following surgery.
For more information on breast and ovarian cancer, visit the Susan G. Komen Foundation website.

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