A new study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology recommends that women with certain gene mutations take preventative steps to fight their increased risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer.

In keeping with the saying that “prevention is better than cure,” women with altered BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes are now advised to remove the fallopian tubes and the ovaries if they are at least age 35 with no future plans to bear children, according to the study released Feb. 24.

“This is a mutation that people inherit from one of their parents- it can come equally from the mother or the father. When a woman inherits this mutation her lifetime risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer greatly increased compared to the general population,” said Deborah Armstrong, an associate professor of oncology and an associate professor of gynecology and obstetrics at The Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center.

According to the National Cancer Institute, anywhere from “55 to 65 percent of women who inherit a harmful BRCA1 mutation and around 45 percent of women who inherit a harmful BRCA2 mutation will develop breast cancer by age 70 years.”

Conclusions from the study show that women who had the preventative surgery, called an oophorectomy, saw their chances of developing ovarian, fallopian tube, or peritoneal cancer drop 80 percent.

The study concluded that women with altered BRCA2 genes could wait until they reached their 40s to have the surgery, but women with either gene mutation decreased their overall chances of dying from any cause by 77 percent with the surgery.

Information released by the National Cancer Institute reports that when the genes are functioning properly, they are supposed to give the body suppressive proteins. These proteins are able to fix DNA that has been damaged, however, when the genes are not working properly, they become more susceptible to becoming compromised cancerous cells, or rogue cells that multiply out of control.

According to Armstrong, BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations are the two most common genes associated with remarkably elevated risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
“The biggest problem we have with ovarian cancer is that we don’t have screening like a Pap smear or a mammogram that will pick it up when it is curable,” she told the AFRO.

Information released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that almost 40,000 women die of breast cancer with the passing of each calendar year. Though Caucasian women have a higher incidence of breast cancer, African American women have an increased risk of dying from the disease because they tend to get a diagnosis and treatment too late.

According to the CDC, 1,800 more Black women die each year from the condition than their White counterparts.

Of the 5,783 participants in the study, completed with women from the United States, Canada, and parts of Europe, 2,274 did not go through with the surgery. A total of 2,123 had already completed the surgery when they began the study in 1995, and roughly 1,390 reported that they had gone through with the procedure in the years of follow-up.

Armstrong said that women who know the risk but still choose to opt out of the preventative surgery should have regular pelvic examinations that include trans-vaginal ultrasounds where a probe is in the vagina and not on the abdomen.

She also warned that while these alternatives are available, “none of them are very good at picking up the early stages of the disease.”