Breast, ovary removal can eliminate cancer risk for some

Women with a certain genetic predisposition to breast or ovarian cancer can dramatically reduce their risk of developing either by undergoing preventative surgeries, a study showed Tuesday.

The research, which tracked nearly 2,500 women with certain genetic mutations, found that preemptive mastectomies or surgeries to remove the ovaries or fallopian tubes nearly eliminated the incidence of either cancer.

"This is the first study to prove women survive longer with these preventative surgeries and shows the importance of genetic testing when there is a family history of early breast or ovarian cancer," said Virginia Kaklamani, an associate professor of medicine at Northwestern University and a co-author of the study.

The research looked at 2,482 women with mutations of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, which significantly increased their chances of developing ovarian or breast cancer.

It found that women with mutations in either gene who opted for prophylactic mastectomies effectively eliminated their future risk of breast cancer.

The study showed "no breast cancer events occurring in women who underwent risk-reducing mastectomy during three years of prospective follow-up."

Seven percent of women in the study who did not undergo the surgery developed breast cancer in the same period.

Similarly, among a subset of the women who underwent surgery removing their ovaries and fallopian tubes, the risk of ovarian cancer dropped off completely.

Kaklamani said the study showed not only the potential benefits of preemptive surgery, but also the importance of genetic testing to detect whether the gene mutations are present.

"Primary care physicians, gynecologists and women need to be more aware that these tests exist," she said.

"So if a woman has a family history of ovarian cancer or breast cancer, the woman can be genetically tested. Testing should not start with the oncologists."

While many women remain reluctant to undertake such significant surgeries without a cancer diagnosis, the authors urged high-risk patients to consider the preemptive measures.

"Women should be aware that options for these preventative surgeries have improved," they said.

"Cosmetic options for women getting mastectomies have greatly improved," they said, adding that removal of the ovaries and fallopian tubes is a fairly low-risk, out-patient procedure.