Surgical Option: Removal of ovaries can prevent cancers in women at risk

8:28am, May 22, 2002

Harboring a mutation in either the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene is known to place a woman at high risk of developing breast and ovarian cancers. Less clear is what a woman with such a mutation should do about it.

Some physicians have offered a drastic measure–ovary removal–as a preventive strategy. Although few studies have explored its value, ovary removal appeals to some doctors and their patients since it eliminates tissue that's targeted by ovarian cancer. It also removes tissue that produces estrogen, the hormone that promotes breast and ovarian cancers.

Two studies now provide the best evidence to date that ovary removal, or oophorectomy, in women carrying a BRCA mutation significantly reduces the incidence of cancer of the ovaries and peritoneum, the membrane that lines the abdomen. The data also suggest that the surgery prevents breast cancer in some women.

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