When Angelina Jolie had a double mastectomy on learning she had the BCRA gene in 2013, which increase the likelihood of developing cancer, the world applauded. It was both a terrifying thought - that more of us could carry this mutation- and relieving, knowing that we could be tested and pro-actively do something about it.
However, new research suggests that unlike previously thought, young women treated for breast cancer who carry the BRCA gene are not less likely to survive than those without them.
The study also showed that a double mastectomy after diagnosis with this type of breast cancer did not improve survival over 10 years. Those with the BRCA mutation were equally likely to survive the two, five and 10-year mark as those without the mutation.
BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations are said to increase the risk of breast cancer by four-to-eightfold, also increasing the risk of ovarian and prostate cancer.
In the study, 12% of the 2,733 women treated for breast cancer at 127 hospitals across the UK (between 2000 and 2008) had a BRCA mutation. These women were aged between 18 and 40, tracked for up to 10 years by The Lancet Oncology).
Over the course of this period, 651 women died from breast cancer, with the study showing that those with the BRCA mutation were equally likely to have survived the first 10 years as those without. Around one third of those with the mutation chose to have a double mastectomy, but the surgery did not appear to improve chances of survival at the 10-year mark.
The result of this study suggests that women have more time than previously thought to decide on treatment. Professor Diana Eccles, the study’s author from the University of Southampton, said:
‘Women diagnosed with early breast cancer who carry a BRCA mutation are often offered double mastectomies soon after their diagnosis or chemotherapy treatment. However, our findings suggest that this surgery does not have to be immediately undertaken along with the other treatment.’
Since a double mastectomy is thought to be a rather radical treatment, these results are thought to reassure young women that there are other options than immediately needing to remove both breasts. She added:
‘In the longer term, risk-reducing surgery should be discussed as an option for BRCA1 mutation carriers in particular, to minimise their future risk of developing a new breast or ovarian cancer.
‘Decisions about timing of additional surgery to reduce future cancer risks should take into account patient prognosis after their first cancer, and their personal preferences.’
Although the results do not apply to older women, those between 18 and 40 can rest assured that there is more time to decide on the best course of treatment.
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