Women with an abnormal BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene have a much higher than average risk of both breast and ovarian cancer. One way to lower cancer risk is to remove both the breasts (prophylactic mastectomy) and the ovaries (prophylactic oophorectomy) before cancer is diagnosed. These prophylactic (protective) surgeries are usually done separately. The first is done and then the second is done months after you've recovered from the first.
Doctors at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center report that 12 women with an abnormal BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene successfully and safely had prophylactic breast and ovary removal during one surgery. Most of the women (10) already had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Removing the breasts and ovaries during a single surgery was done to reduce the risk of:
- the breast cancer coming back
- a new breast cancer
- ovarian cancer
Most of the women (10) also had breast reconstruction during the surgery.
The 12 women who had combined surgery didn't have any complications during surgery, but three of them had some complications related to the surgery while they recovered in the hospital. Because so much was done during the surgery, both the length of the surgery and recovery time in the hospital were a longer than if each surgery had been done separately.
The women were followed for about 7 years after surgery. Even though they had an abnormal BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene, none of the women developed a new cancer (breast or ovarian). Two of the 10 women previously diagnosed with breast cancer had the breast cancer come back somewhere else in their bodies. This means that the original breast cancer already had spread before they had surgery.
Doing two procedures during one trip to the operating room allows you to avoid a second surgery and hospitalization. It's too soon to say that combining prophylactic breast and ovarian removal is a good idea for most women, but this study shows that it can be done safely and deserves more study.
Stay tuned to breastcancer.org for the latest news about research findings that may lead to better ways to prevent, diagnose and treat breast cancer.