Cancer survival 'not affected by faulty BRCA gene'

The actress Angelina Jolie had a pre-emptive mastectomy after finding out that she had a BRCA gene mutation

Young women diagnosed with breast cancer who carry a BRCA mutation have the same chances of survival as women without the mutation after undergoing treatment.

Scientists at the University of Southampton, UK, recently reported that women who carry a mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes are not more likely to die after a breast cancer diagnosis than non-carriers. "This class of drugs has been used to treat advanced, BRCA-mutated ovarian cancer and has now shown efficacy in treating certain types of BRCA-mutated breast cancer", said Richard Pazdur, MD, director of the FDA Oncology Center of Excellence and acting director of the Office of Hematology and Oncology Products in the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.

Researchers say the findings suggest there is no imperative for women with breast cancer who carry a BRCA mutation to opt for double mastectomies soon after their diagnosis.

Breast cancer survival was the same in young women with and without faulty BRCA genes, according to a new study.

About 97 percent of women survived for more than two years after their diagnosis, while more than 83 percent and more than 70 percent survived for five and 10 years post-diagnosis, respectively.

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The results were the same whether mutations were in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene, according to the study published January 11 in The Lancet Oncology.

"However, our findings suggest that this surgery does not have to be immediately undertaken along with the other treatment".

"Our data provides some reassurance that patients who are diagnosed with a BRCA gene fault as part of their cancer treatment journey can complete and recover from their breast cancer treatment, which is important", she said. The primary outcome was overall survival for all BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations carriers compared with all non-carriers at 2, 5, and 10 years post-diagnosis. Drugs that impair estrogen receptor signaling, such as tamoxifen or aromatase inhibitors, also reduce the risk of breast cancer among women at high risk.

About a third of those with the BRCA mutation had a double mastectomy to remove both breasts after being diagnosed with cancer, the same surgery Jolie went through.

The study ended in 2008, and in the last 10 years several new treatments have been released to the market. "These risks determine treatment, and knowing that BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations do not result in a different prognosis might change the therapeutic approach for these risks". 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. On Friday, the Food and Drug Administration announced that the agency was expanding its approval for a drug called Lynparza to treat breast cancer in people who were BRCA carriers.

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