5/21/02 - High-Risk Cancer-Fighting Option

Having breast or ovarian cancer is an emotional and painful roller coaster for women. Now, a group of doctors say a type of preventative surgery can save some women from that pain, but there are risks.

The doctors -- from a leading cancer center -- say removing a woman's ovaries can reduce her risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer, but what about the emotional cost of the surgery?

Surgeon Robert Hunt says, "This is not a final answer." Dr. Hunt sees close to 30 patients a day, most of them have breast cancer. Some of those women have a family history of the disease, but to his knowledge none have what are known as BRCA mutations in their genes. "This gene means these women are at high risk of developing breast cancer or ovarian cancer or both," Dr. Hunt says. The study found women who have this gene and are at such high risk can reduce their chances of developing ovarian and breast cancer by as much as se

The odds are much better, but for women of child bearing age the decision could just be too emotionally difficult and most women with breast cancer don't even have those genes. "This gene occurs in only 10 percent of women who have breast cancer that means 90 percent of women who get breast cancer do not have this positive gene," Dr. Hunt says. Researchers studied two groups of women at high risk . Eighteen percent of those who did not have the surgery developed cancer, only four percent in the other group.

But Dr. Hunt says the problem is the study only looked at 173 women over two years. He says breast cancer can take many years to develop. The bottom line, he says there needs to be more research. "Certainly if reducing the risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer can be accomplished by removing the ovaries rather than the ovaries and both breasts it would be a great benefit to women," says Dr. Hunt.

Again, the emotional stress a woman could go through after having this type of surgery is enormous. Doctors say many women may need counseling before they even consider to have this surgery done.