Doctors observed that some breast cancer survivors later developed ovarian cancer, says cancer genetics expert Kenneth Offit of Memorial Sloan Kettering. This observation led to the discovery that women with BRCA mutations have a higher risk for ovarian cancer than for breast cancer.
With no effective screening method for ovarian cancer, doctors recommend preventive surgery to remove the ovaries in women with a BRCA mutation who have finished childbearing. Women with a BRCA mutation may also consider preventive breast surgery, depending on other risk factors.
Preventive surgery cannot completely eliminate the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, cautions breast surgeon Alexandra Heerdt, as some tissue may remain after the operation. In addition, the type of breast reconstruction a woman chooses can affect the timing of ovarian surgery for women who elect to have both operations.
Decisions about whether to have preventive surgery or other treatments are made in consultation with a team of experts that includes clinicians and genetic counselors, says genetic counselor Emily Glogowski.
Researchers at Memorial Sloan Kettering are characterizing the genomes of individual tumors to identify potential targets for new therapies.