KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Study: Preemptive Surgery May Help Prevent Cancer For Some Women

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that women with a gene mutation linked to breast and ovarian cancer face lower risks of developing such cancer after receiving mastectomies or having their ovaries removed, The Wall Street Journal reports. The study, which involved 2,482 women, "provides the most concrete evidence to date about the benefit of undergoing such preventative surgeries in women who carry mutated BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes. The study also showed that women who underwent the preventative surgeries were less likely to die than women who opted not to have surgery." Between 1974 and 2008, none of the 247 women in the study who underwent mastectomies developed breast cancer. Seven percent of the women who did not have the procedure were diagnosed with breast cancer (Dooren, 8/31).

ABC News details one study participant's experience: "When Lisa Schlager took part in a research study in 1999, she never expected to get some news that would change her life forever. In the course of the study, Schlager tested positive for a BRCA gene mutation, an abnormality known to increase greatly the risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer." She ended up getting her breasts and ovaries removed in 2008 and 2007, respectively. The study speculates that the difficult decision could potentially extend her life (Carollo, 8/31).

The JAMA study "confirms what smaller studies have suggested in the past: Women who have a family history of breast cancer can greatly reduce their chances of getting the disease by having a double mastectomy ... ," NPR adds. "In an editorial accompanying the study, Virginia Kaklamani, an oncologist at Northwestern University, says lives can be saved if women have genetic testing. 'A lot of times I see these women having had a very preventable type of breast cancer. Preventable because I can identify the fact that they had a higher risk of getting breast cancer,' she says" (Neighmond, 8/31).

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