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Published: Friday, 9/3/2010

Clear cancer options

New research on reducing the risk of breast and ovarian cancer offers significant findings for women with family histories of these diseases. The study not only confirms what was already known about lessening the chance of contracting the cancers through preemptive surgery, it also documents related survivor benefits.

This is a groundbreaking development for patients who are diagnosed with breast cancer or suspected of carrying two common breast cancer genes. Researchers studied nearly 2,500 women who have the genetic mutations responsible for breast and ovarian cancers, according to a report of the study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The genes account for 10 percent to 20 percent of all cases of those cancers. Scientists tracked at-risk women in four countries for an average of four years.

Some women chose to have preventive surgeries, opting for removal of healthy breasts and ovaries, while others opted for frequent monitoring instead of surgery. The results, in the largest investigation of its kind, appear definitive.

None of the women who had preventive mastectomies developed breast cancer during the follow-up years, while 7 percent of those who were screened regularly, with ultrasounds and mammograms, were diagnosed with the disease.

The outcome was the same for patients who had their ovaries and fallopian tubes surgically removed. None developed ovarian cancer, while 3 percent of those who were screened got the dreaded diagnosis.

Even patients diagnosed with the hereditary cancers raised their survival rates with surgery, the study said. That information could be invaluable to those who face difficult decisions about preventive or risk-reducing surgery.

For women at high genetic risk of breast or ovarian cancer, the study suggests the life-saving option is clear.

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