New Wave of Preventative Surgeries are Saving Lives

The new mammogram machine at Rabin Medical Center.
The new mammogram machine at Rabin Medical Center.

A new study has found that women with certain genetic mutations such as BRCA1 gene mutation, which greatly raises their risk of breast and ovarian cancer, can cut the risk by as much as 80% if they get their ovaries removed by age 35 (Fox 1). This is the first study to show how much an operation can lower the risk of cancer and the first to put “such a clear age on the benefits” (Fox 2). Some researchers even believe that ovary removal or oophorectomy should be standard for anyone with BRCA1 mutations. However, this is not the easiest of decisions to make because the removal of a woman’s ovaries sends her into an “instant and permanent menopause” and ends childbearing (Fox 2). However, for someone living with this risk, getting the opportunity to live a full and healthy life outweighs the any of the side effects.

Many women with BRCA mutations have started to get their breasts removed long before any sign of cancer. One of the most noticeable advocates for these types of preventative measures is Angelina Jolie. She bravely had her breasts removed at age 37 and plans to have her ovaries removed as well. It is important to note that the removal of the ovaries mostly impacted those with certain BRCA1 mutations and strong family history of cancer. Women who had BRCA2 mutations did not benefit as much (Fox 2).

Another woman who is making this huge decision is Nicole Armstrong who inherited the mutated gene from her father, Douglas Armstrong. Her sister was only 30 when she found a painful lump under her arm and she died of breast cancer just two years later. At first Nicole resisted; however, she knew that she would most likely end up getting the disease so at 24 she underwent a double mastectomy. Now, she will undergo another surgery to have her ovaries removed. However, she is very anxious because she has not had a child yet and the decision places an enormous amount of pressure on her: ” ‘I try not to think about it too much because it is, it’s overwhelming'” (Fox 8).

Nicole and her father, Douglas Armstrong-NBCNews
Nicole and her father, Douglas Armstrong-NBCNews

The National Cancer Institute declares that about “12 percent of all women will develop breast cancer during their lives, but 55 to 65 percent of women with a BRCA1 mutation will…And while just 1.4 perfect of all women will get ovarian cancer, 39 percent of those with a harmful BRCA1 mutation will” (Fox 5). Essentially, this new information allows women to make their own choices about their health:

‘These results could make a real difference for women with BRCA mutations, who face tough decisions about whether and when to undergo a prophylactic oophorectomy’ said Dr. Don Dizon of Harvard Medical School and a member of the American Society for Clinical Oncology. ‘For women with BRCA1 mutations, these results suggest that surgery should be performed as soon as it is practical.’ But first, women need to know they are at risk, and that’s usually by knowing family history And surveys show that [these women] are happy with the decision [to undergo preventative procedures]. (Fox 5)

Here at American Friends of Rabin Medical Center, we raise money for breast and ovarian cancer research and treatments.We help raise awareness and funds for both breast and ovarian cancer through two special events:

1. Women’s Luncheon- An intimate women’s luncheon on April 8, 2014 with Letty Cottin Progrebin- journalist, social activist, and best selling author of How To Be A Friend To A Friend Who’s Sick- as well as a private tour of Lincoln Center. Please email afrmc@afrmc.org for more information.

2. NYC 5K Schlep- Fourth annual Cheryl Diamond NYC 5k SCHLEP: Breast and Ovarian Cancer Run/Walk to take place on Sunday, June 22,2014 in Battery Park, NYC. Please email afrmc@afrmc.org for more information.

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