Heading Breast Cancer Off at the Pass
WebMD News Archive
In the study, 42 of the mastectomy patients also had surgery to
remove their ovaries. In the comparison group -- all of whom had regular breast
exams rather than mastectomy -- 32 women had their ovaries removed, Klijn and
his colleagues report.
The Dutch researchers do not address the role that removal of
the ovaries may have played in outcomes of their study. However, other
researchers say removal of the ovaries can lower the risk of breast cancer
because they produce estrogen. Researchers have found that estrogen contributes
to development of breast tumors.
"If a woman has a family history of ... breast cancer and
ovarian cancer and so is also at risk for ovarian cancer, she could have the
ovaries removed," says David Euhus, MD, an assistant professor of cancer
surgery at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. "This
lowers her risk of breast cancer by 47%. Women are often more willing to do
this then to sacrifice a breast."
Euhus says that when his team assesses a woman for breast
cancer risk factors, they use a number of variables such as which relatives had
breast or ovarian tumors, at what ages the cancer developed, if and when the
relatives died from the disease.
"We're very [number] oriented over here," he tells
WebMD. "Only half of the generation in which the bad gene is running will
ever get breast cancer. But if we're coming up with a 60, 70, 80% risk after we
run the numbers through the computer, then [preventive] mastectomy is something
they might want to consider."
However, Timothy Rebbeck, PhD, University of Pennsylvania
associate professor of epidemiology, says that not enough is known about the
part preventive mastectomies play in reducing breast cancer risk. He and his
colleagues are currently conducting a study to compare the rates of breast
cancer in women who decide to undergo the operation vs. those who don't.
"It is relevant to high risk women, but it may not be
necessary," he tells WebMD. Still, he adds that preliminary results of his
research are showing a significant risk reduction in those who have the