February 26, 2014 — Some women with a genetic mutation linked to breast or ovarian cancer can significantly reduce their risk of death by having their ovaries removed by age 35, according to a study published online Monday by the Journal of Clinical Oncology, USA Today reports (Szabo, USA Today, 2/24).
For the study, researchers in Canada followed about 5,800 U.S., Canadian and European women with the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations over 19 years. The mutations tend to run in families and increase a woman's risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer.
Participants who did not have cancer at the beginning of the study and later underwent ovary removal surgery reduced their risk of ovarian and breast cancers by 80%, the study found. Their risk of death from any cause by age 70 declined by 77%.
Recommended Age for Surgery
For BRCA1 carriers who underwent ovary removal surgery at age 35, the lifetime risk of ovarian cancer decreased to about 1%, which is about the same as women without the mutation (Winslow, Wall Street Journal, 2/24).
However, BRCA2 carriers can delay the surgery until they are in their 40s without affecting their risk because their chance of developing ovarian cancer is not as strong, the researchers reported (Falco/Ford, CNN, 2/25).
Guidelines from the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology suggest ovary removal surgery for BRCA1 and BRCA2 carriers by age 40. Many doctors will recommend it by age 35 or as soon as women are finished having children, according to the Wall Street Journal (Wall Street Journal, 2/24).
Study lead author Steven Narod, a professor of medicine at the University of Toronto, said, "To me, waiting to have [the surgery] until after 35 is too much of a chance to take" for BRCA1 carriers, adding, "These data are so striking that we believe [the surgery] by age 35 should become a universal standard for women with BRCA1 mutations" (CNN, 2/25).