Preventative Surgery for Cancer
- Former NBC anchor Jenna Wolfe, 49, recently underwent preventative a hysterectomy and mastectomy to reduce her risk of developing ovarian and breast cancer.
- Wolfe said she tested positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation.
- There are many gene mutations that can raise your risk of breast cancer, but the BRCA genetic mutation raises people’s risk levels the most.
- If you discover you have an increased risk of developing breast cancer because of a BRCA mutation, you should discuss your options for moving forward with your doctor. Those options can include intensive surveillance, medication and surgery.
- The American Cancer Society says that although both tubal ligation and hysterectomy may reduce the chance of developing certain types of ovarian cancer, experts agree that these operations should only be done for valid medical reasons – not for their effect on ovarian cancer risk.
Wolfe, 49, who is married to fellow journalist and NBC correspondent Stephanie Gosk, 50, recently shared that she had tested positive for the BRCA-1 gene mutation, which increases a woman’s risk of developing breast and ovarian cancers.Read More
In her most recent post, she shared an update post-mastectomy.
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“Mastectomy behind me. All that’s left now is recovery and healing,” she wrote under a picture from the hospital. “The most important part. The hardest part. I FaceTimed with my kids tonight and the little said to me, ‘you always say we can do hard things, mama. Now we’re telling you the same thing. You got this. We love you.’ #brca1”
When to Consider Preventative Surgery
According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, germline mutations in BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes increase a woman’s risk of developing hereditary breast or ovarian cancers and a man’s risk of developing hereditary prostate or breast cancers. They also increase the risk of pancreatic cancer and melanoma in women and men. Genetic testing is one way to understand your inherited risk of developing certain cancers.
RELATED: New Recommendation: Many More Women Should Have Their Fallopian Tubes Removed To Prevent Ovarian Cancer– Top Experts Strongly Agree
Genetic Testing for Breast Cancer: What is This Type of Test? And What Do My Results Mean?
“Genetic testing is an exploding area, and it started out with a very narrow field of women and men who were recommended to have it based on certain risk factors, family history of breast cancer or other cancers and also ethnic backgrounds,” Dr. Elisa Port, a surgical oncologist at Mount Sinai, previously told SurvivorNet. “We now feel that casting a wider net with genetic testing is probably very prudent because finding out that one has a cancer predisposition gene can definitely change their course, their risk for cancer and what they might want to do about it.”
More Preventative Surgery Stories
- “It’s Not The Choice For Everyone, But It Was For Me”: Nina Garcia of “Project Runway” Opens Up About Preventative Mastectomy
- Breast Cancer Survivor and Journalist Susan Berger Says Reporting on the PALB2 Mutation May Have Saved Her Life; What You Should Know about Genetic Testing and Preventative Surgeries
- Angelina Jolie On Her Mastectomy Decision — I’m More Likely To Meet My Grandchildren And The Scars Are Positive Reminders
There are many different gene mutations that can raise your of certain cancers, but let’s focus on the BRCA mutation as it pertains to the story above.
BRCA, itself, is actually two genes (BRCA1 and BRCA2). BRCA1 (BReast CAncer gene 1) and BRCA2 (BReast CAncer gene 2) are genes that produce proteins that help repair damaged DNA, according to the National Cancer Institute.
RELATED: What Is a BRCA Mutation?
Everyone is born with two copies of each of these genes – one inherited from each parent. If either parent carries a BRCA gene mutation, there’s a 50-50 chance the child is carrying it as well. When these tumor suppressor genes have certain mutations, or changes, cancer can develop raising men and women’s risk level for breast cancer as well as several other cancers, most notably ovarian cancer.
“If a woman has one of these mutations the genetic BRCA1 and (BRCA)2 mutations, it puts her at basically the highest quantifiable risk for getting breast cancer,” Dr. Port explained. “We typically say between the 60 (percent) and 80 percent range.”
What Are the Options if You Have a High Risk of Developing Breast Cancer?
In a previous conversation with SurvivorNet, Dr. Freya Schnabel, Director of Breast Surgery at NYU Langone Medical Center, talked about people’s options when they discover they’re at an incerased risk of developing breast cancer because of a BRCA mutation.
“When I meet with women who are at an increased risk for breast cancer because of BRCA mutations, I like to talk about the three options that they have for managing their risk,” Dr. Schnabel told SurvivorNet.
According to Dr. Schnabel, those options include:
- Intensive surveillance: This means keeping a close eye on your health. “This is an option that focuses on early detection of disease if it should occur,” Dr. Schnabel said.
- Medication: There are certain drugs available to lower the risk of developing breast cancer. “Tamoxifen is the one we use in young women and then aromatase inhibitors can also be used in post-menopausal women, that have been associated with lowered risk for developing hormone sensitive breast cancer,” she said. “So, these medications have to be taken for five years, but have a meaningful reduction in the risk of developing breast cancer, especially for BRCA2 carriers.”
- Surgery: This is the option that will lower a woman’s chance of getting breast cancer as much as possible. “The strategy here is to do surgery to remove the breast tissue as completely as we can,” Dr. Schnabel explained.
As far as preventative hysterectomies go, the recommendations are a little bit different. The American Cancer Society says that although both tubal ligation and hysterectomy may reduce the chance of developing certain types of ovarian cancer, experts agree that these operations should only be done for valid medical reasons – not for their effect on ovarian cancer risk.
If you are going to have a hysterectomy for a valid medical reason and you have a strong family history of ovarian or breast cancer, you may want to consider having both ovaries and fallopian tubes removed (called a bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy) as part of that procedure.
No matter what, make sure you’re talking with your doctors about your cancer risks. It never hurts to have conversations with your doctors so you can decide what is best for you.
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