Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Breast Cancer Health Center

Font Size

Gene Test, Preventive Surgery Save Women's Lives

Preventive Surgery Cuts Death Risk for Women With BRCA Cancer Genes
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Aug. 31, 2010 -- Women who carry the BRCA1 or BRCA2 cancer genes cut their risk of death, breast cancer, and ovarian cancer by getting preventive surgery.

But to reduce their risk, women must make difficult choices:

  • They must decide whether to get tested for the BRCA mutations.
  • If BRCA positive, they must decide whether to undergo risk-reducing surgery to remove their ovaries and fallopian tubes.
  • If BRCA positive, they must decide whether to undergo risk-reducing surgery to remove their breasts.

Just a few months ago, 42-year-old Maxine Grossman, PhD, faced all these decisions. Her mother had died of breast cancer at age 55. A close cousin on her father's side was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 33. And Grossman has an Ashkenazi Jewish background, increasing her risk of carrying the BRCA gene.

These risk factors -- relatives on both sides of the family with early breast cancer and her heritage -- make Grossman a prime candidate for the BRCA gene test. But it was hard for her to decide to get the test -- and hard for her to face the next set of choices.

Now there's more information to help women like Grossman make these choices. It comes from a long-term study of nearly 2,500 BRCA-positive women studied at 22 medical centers in the U.S. and Europe by University of Pennsylvania researcher Timothy R. Rebbeck, PhD, and colleagues.

Only 10% of the BRCA-positive women in the study underwent preventive breast removal. Over three years of follow-up, none of them got breast cancer. Over the same period, 7% of BRCA-positive women who kept their breasts got breast cancer.

Only 38% of the BRCA-positive women in the study chose to have their ovaries and fallopian tubes removed. These women had a significantly lower risk of both breast and ovarian cancer than women who did not have the surgery.

They also reduced their risk of death. Among women who underwent the procedure, known as risk-reducing salpingo-oophorectomy or RRSO:

  • 3% died from any cause, vs. 10% of those who did not have the surgery.
  • 2% died of breast cancer, vs. 6% of those who did not have the surgery.
  • 0.4% died of ovarian cancer, vs. 3% of those who did not have the surgery.

1 | 2 | 3 | 4

Today on WebMD

Breast Cancer Overview
From self-exams and biopsies to reconstruction, we’ve got you covered.
Dealing with breast cancer
Get answers to your questions.
woman having mammogram
Experts don’t agree on all fronts, but you can be your own advocate.
woman undergoing breast cancer test
Many women worry. But the truth? Most abnormalities aren’t breast cancer.
Breast Cancer Treatments Improving
Resolved To Quit Smoking
Woman getting mammogram
Screening Tests for Women
ovarian cancer overview slideshow
serious woman
what is your cancer risk
10 Ways to Revitalize Slideshow