Breast Cancer Gene Might Extend Ovarian Cancer Survival

The finding is so far limited to women of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, researchers say

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THURSDAY, Jan. 3, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- Ashkenazi Jewish women with ovarian cancer live significantly longer if they carry specific mutations of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes known to raise risks for breast cancer.

After five years of following a group of Ashkenazi Jewish women with ovarian cancer, researchers reported that women with the BRCA1 or 2 mutations were 29 percent less likely to die from the disease.

The Israel-based research team compared five-year survival between 213 Ashkenazi ovarian cancer patients with BRCA1 or 2 mutations ("carriers") and 392 Ashkenazi ovarian cancer patients without the mutations ("non-carriers").

After five years of follow-up, almost half (46 percent) of the carriers had survived, compared with about a third (34.4 percent) of non-carriers. Median survival was almost 54 months for women carrying a mutation and just under 38 months for non-carriers. Survival differed most strongly for women diagnosed with more advanced disease (stage III or IV) -- carriers had five-year survival rates of 38.1 percent versus 24.5 percent for non-carriers. Other factors, such as age and tumor size, did not alter the effect of the genetic mutation.

The researchers also looked at ovarian cancer survival depending on whether women had a BRCA1 or a BRCA2 mutation. Women with BRCA1 mutations lived a median of just over 45 months, and women with BRCA2 mutations lived a median of 52.5 months, the study found.

"These findings are encouraging news for BRCA mutation carriers," Dr. Siegal Sadetzki, head of the Cancer & Radiation Epidemiology Unit at the Gertner Institute, Chaim Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer, Israel, said in a prepared statement. "It's possible that patients with these mutations respond better to chemotherapy -- hopefully, once we learn more about the mechanisms of this response, tailoring individual treatment will further improve survival."

Normal BRCA1/2 genes control cell growth. Mutations in these genes, which are more common among Ashkenazi Jewish women than in the general population, increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancers. Ashkenazi Jews are of Eastern European descent.

The study is published in the January issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

More information

To learn more about ovarian cancer, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SOURCE: American Society of Clinical Oncology, news release, Jan. 1, 2008

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