Women who undergo major preventive surgeries had a reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancers, a new study has shown.
Gail Tomlinson of the University of Texas said that for women with certain genetic mutations, risk-reducing mastectomies and removal of the fallopian tubes and ovaries could be worth it for the women and their families.
"We have believed this for 15 years but it's been so controversial - removing organs for cancer risk," said Tomlinson.
The idea can be jarring unless one considers that the women with the specific genetic mutations, BRCA1 and BRCA2, are seeing people in their family suffering from these cancers one after another, Tomlinson said.
She noted that often these are women with young families and careers to worry about, and the worry about dying from cancer at an early age because of familial predisposition can be overwhelming.
"This is a compromise women are willing to accept and their husbands are willing to accept, because the whole family worries about whether the women are going to get breast cancer," Tomlinson said.
In addition to breast and ovarian cancer, she said, "certain types of thyroid and kidney cancer run in families and early intervention can be lifesaving."
The study followed nearly 2,500 women at higher risk for breast or ovarian cancer because of two genetic mutations between 1974 and 2008 at 22 centres in Europe and North America.
In 247 women who chose risk-reducing mastectomies, no breast cancers were diagnosed, while one in 13 of the 1,372 who did not have the surgery were diagnosed with breast cancer.
Women who had their ovaries and fallopian tubes removed had a lower risk of ovarian cancer, including those with prior breast cancer, and a lower risk of dying from either cancer.
The findings were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.