For some women, having their ovaries removed would be the end of the world, but for others it could just save their lives. In a recent study scientists have found that ovary removal by the age of 35 in at-risk women greatly reduces the risk of ovarian cancer.
The study that was recently published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology focuses on the cancer risk of females with a hereditary predisposition to ovarian, breast and abdomen cancers, due to a gene mutation. This gene mutation, BRCA, affects the way that cells function in the body. If a BCRA gene is working properly it will work to fix damaged cells by producing proteins that repair DNA and limit growth of any tumors. If a BRCA gene is mutated and not functioning properly, it will do nothing to fix damaged cells, thus greatly increasing the risk of ovarian and breast cancers in women.
There are two different types of BRCA mutations, BRCA1 and BRCA2. Women with the BRCA1 mutation have a much higher risk of ovarian and breast cancers than those with BRCA2, which is dangerous but not as deadly as BRCA1.
The study which was published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology follows 5,787 women with the BRCA gene mutation. Of these nearly 6,000 women, half had their ovaries removed before the study, and the other half still had these reproductive organs. By the end of the study period, which lasted from 1995 to 2011, 1,390 more women made the choice to have their ovaries removed, meaning over 60 percent of the women in the study had the surgery. In total, 186 of the women in the study were diagnosed with breast, ovarian or abdominal cancer.
Due to the factors including the women’s type of gene mutation, whether the women decided to have her ovaries removed or not, and at what age led the researchers to their results. The scientists discovered that women with BRCA1 who chose to have ovary removal surgery by or before age 35 reduced their risk of cancer by more than 70 percent. Every year after 35 that the women waited to have their ovaries removed their chances for developing cancer greatly increased.
However, women with the gene mutation BRCA2 were not at nearly as high a risk as those with BRCA1, and could wait until age 50 to have ovary removal surgery. In some cases women with this mutation have a higher risk for developing breast cancer and op to have their breasts removed as a preventative measure.
The surgical process of having ovary removal surgery is called a prophylactic oophorectomy. While the benefits greatly outweigh the problems, this surgery does come with serious, permanent consequences and changes to a women’s body. Those who receive this surgery become menopausal and may suffer from a lack of hormones, along with the inability to further bear children.
As scientists and researchers gather more data, doctors surmise that prophylactic oophorectomy will become a more commonly and strongly suggested preventative procedure. While the thought of ovary removal at age 35 may seem unfathomable for some, for those whose cancer risk it reduces, it is thought by researchers to become a necessary action.
By Allison Longstreet