When Angelina Jolie had a double mastectomy after she learned she had the BRCA gene in 2013 — a gene that increases the likelihood of developing cancer — the world applauded. It was both a terrifying thought, that more of us could carry this mutation, and a relieving thought, that we could be tested and proactively do something about it.
However, new research suggests that young women treated for breast cancer who carry the BRCA gene are not less likely to survive than those without them. The study also showed that a double mastectomy after diagnosis, with this type of breast cancer, did not improve survival over 10 years. Those with the BRCA mutation were equally likely to survive the two, five, and 10-year mark when compared to those without the mutation.
BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations are said to increase the risk of breast cancer and also increase the risk of ovarian and prostate cancer. In the study, 12 percent of the 2,733 women treated for breast cancer between 2000 and 2008, had a BRCA mutation. These women were between the ages of 18 and 40, and were tracked for up to 10 years by The Lancet.
During the study, 651 women died from breast cancer. The study showed those who had the BRCA mutation were equally likely to have survived the first 10 years as those without the gene. Around one third of those with the mutation chose to have a double mastectomy, but the surgery did not appear to improve chances of survival at the 10-year mark.
The result of this study suggests that women have more time than previously thought to decide on treatment. Professor Diana Eccles, the study’s author from the University of Southampton, said: "‘Women diagnosed with early breast cancer who carry a BRCA mutation are often offered double mastectomies soon after their diagnosis or chemotherapy treatment," Professor Diana Eccles, the study’s author from the University of Southampton, said. "However, our findings suggest that this surgery does not have to be immediately undertaken along with the other treatment."
Because a double mastectomy is thought to be a rather radical treatment, these results are thought to reassure young women that there are other options than immediately needing to remove both breasts. Eccles added: "In the longer term, risk-reducing surgery should be discussed as an option for BRCA1 mutation carriers in particular, to minimize their future risk of developing a new breast or ovarian cancer," Eccles added. "Decisions about timing of additional surgery to reduce future cancer risks should take into account patient prognosis after their first cancer and their personal preferences."
Although the results do not apply to older women, women who are between the ages of 18 and 40 can rest assured that there is more time to decide on the best course of treatment.
This post was written by Georgia Aspinall. For more, check out our sister site Grazia.