Many Opt for Surgery to Lower Breast, Ovarian Cancer Risk

Women with BRCA gene mutations often choose preventive measures, study finds

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FRIDAY, Aug. 7, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- Many women with a high risk of breast or ovarian cancer have surgery to remove their breasts or ovaries in order to reduce the likelihood of developing cancer, English researchers report.

Their study included 211 women, aged 35 to 45, with BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations, which are known to increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancer. The women found out about their increased risk after undergoing genetic testing.

"Women have their breasts or ovaries removed based on their risk. It does not always happen immediately after counseling or a genetic test result and can take more than seven years for patients to decide to go forward with surgery," lead researcher Dr. D. Gareth Evans, a consultant in clinical genetics at the Genesis Prevention Center, University Hospital of South Manchester NHS Trust, and professor at the University of Manchester, said in a news release.

Evans and colleagues found that women who had a biopsy after undergoing risk evaluation were twice as likely to undergo mastectomy. Even when the tissue was benign, most of the women were likely to opt for risk reduction surgery.

Forty percent of women with BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations had both breasts removed and 45 percent had both ovaries removed.

When looked at separately, 52 percent of BRCA1 gene mutation carriers had both ovaries removed, compared with 28 percent of BRCA2 gene mutation carriers, the researchers found.

"We found that older women were much less likely to have a mastectomy but were more likely to have their ovaries removed," Evans said.

Most women decided to have breast or ovary removal surgery within two years after their genetic test, but some took seven years to make the decision, according to the report published in the Aug. 1 issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

More information

The American Association for Clinical Chemistry has more about BRCA1 and BRCA2 tests.

SOURCE: American Association for Cancer Research, news release, Aug. 6, 2009

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