2011 ASCO: Women with BRCA Gene Mutations Can Take Hormone-Replacement Therapy Safely After Ovary Removal

Women with the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations, which are linked to a very high risk of breast and ovarian cancer, can safely take hormone-replacement therapy (HRT) to mitigate menopausal symptoms after surgical removal of their ovaries, according to new research from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania

Women with the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations, which are linked to a very high risk of breast and ovarian cancer, can safely take hormone-replacement therapy (HRT) to mitigate menopausal symptoms after surgical removal of their ovaries, according to new research from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania which will be presented on Monday, June 6 during the American Society for Clinical Oncology’s annual meeting. Results of the prospective study indicated that women with BRCA mutations who had their ovaries removed and took short-term HRT had a decrease in the risk of developing breast cancer.

Research has shown that in women who carry the BRCA gene mutations, the single most powerful risk-reduction strategy is to have their ovaries surgically removed by their mid-30s or early 40s. The decrease in cancer risk from ovary removal comes at the cost of early menopause and menopausal symptoms including hot flashes, mood swings, sleep disturbances and vaginal dryness — quality-of-life issues that may cause some women to delay or avoid the procedure.

Lead study author Susan M. Domchek, M.D., Associate Professor, Divison of Hematology-Oncology & Director, Cancer Risk Evaluation Program, Abramson Cancer Center, University of Pennsylvania

“Women with BRCA1/2 mutations should have their ovaries removed following child-bearing because this is the single best intervention to improve survival,” says lead author Susan M. Domchek, M.D., an associate professor in the division of Hematology-Oncology and director of the Cancer Risk Evaluation Program at Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center. “It is unfortunate to have women choose not to have this surgery because they are worried about menopausal symptoms and are told they can’t take HRT. Our data say that is not the case — these drugs do not increase their risk of breast cancer.”

Senior author Timothy R. Rebbeck, Ph.D., associate director of population science at the Abramson Cancer Center, notes that BRCA carriers may worry — based on other studies conducted in the general population showing a link between HRT and elevated cancer risk — that taking HRT may negate the effects of the surgery on their breast cancer risk. The message he hopes doctors will now give to women is clear: “If you need it, you can take short-term HRT. It doesn’t erase the effects of the oophorectomy.”

In the current study, Domchek, Rebbeck, and colleagues followed 795 women with BRCA1 mutations and 504 women with BRCA2 mutations who have not had cancer enrolled in the PROSE consortium database who underwent prophylactic oophorectomy, divided into groups of those who took HRT and those who did not. Women who underwent prophylactic oophorectomy had a lower risk of breast cancer than those who did not, with 14 percent of the women who took HRT after surgery developing breast cancer compared to 12 percent of the women who did not take HRT after surgery. The difference was not statistically significant.

Domchek says some of the confusion about the role of HRT in cancer risk elevation comes from the fact that the risks and benefits associated with HRT depend on the population of women studied. In this group of women — who have BRCA1/2 mutations and who have had their ovaries removed while they are quite young — HRT should be discussed and considered an option for treating menopausal symptoms. “People want to make hormone replacement therapy evil, so they can say ‘Don’t do it,'” she says. “But there isn’t one simple answer. The devil is in the details of the studies.”

By contrast, Penn researchers and their collaborators in the PROSE consortium have shown definitively that oophorectomy reduces ovarian and breast cancer incidence in these women, and reduces their mortality due to those cancers. But paying attention to the role that hormone depletion following preventive oophorectomy plays in women’s future health is also important.

“We know for sure that using HRT will mitigate menopausal symptoms, and we have pretty good evidence that it will help bone health,” she says. “Women need to be aware that going into very early menopause does increase their risk of bone problems and cardiovascular problems. And even if they aren’t going to take HRT, they need to be very attentive to monitoring for those issues. But they also need to know that HRT is an option for them and to discuss it with their doctors and other caregivers.”

About Penn Medicine

Penn Medicine is one of the world’s leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. Penn Medicine consists of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (founded in 1765 as the nation’s first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which together form a $4 billion enterprise. Penn Medicine is committed to improving lives and health through a variety of community-based programs and activities. In fiscal year 2010, Penn Medicine provided $788 million to benefit our community.

About the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine

Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine is currently ranked #2 in U.S. News & World Report’s survey of research-oriented medical schools and among the top 10 schools for primary care. The School is consistently among the nation’s top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $507.6 million awarded in the 2010 fiscal year.

About the University of Pennsylvania Health System

The University of Pennsylvania Health System’s patient care facilities include: The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania — recognized as one of the nation’s top 10 hospitals by U.S. News & World Report; Penn Presbyterian Medical Center; and Pennsylvania Hospital – the nation’s first hospital, founded in 1751. Penn Medicine also includes additional patient care facilities and services throughout the Philadelphia region.

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Women Often Opt to Surgically Remove Their Breasts, Ovaries to Reduce Cancer Risk

Many women at high risk for breast or ovarian cancer are choosing to undergo surgery as a precautionary measure to decrease their cancer risk, according to a report in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

PHILADELPHIA – Many women at high risk for breast or ovarian cancer are choosing to undergo surgery as a precautionary measure to decrease their cancer risk, according to a report in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

Gareth

Dr. Gareth Evans is an international authority on cancer genetics. Dr. Evans is the Chairman of the National Institute For Health & Clinical Excellence (NICE) familial breast cancer group; Chairman, Cancer Genetics Group & Council Member, British Society of Human Genetics; Consultant, Genesis Prevention Center, Univ. Hospital of South Manchester NHS Trust; Professor, Univ. of Manchester, UK

“Women have their breasts or ovaries removed based on their risk.

Claudine_2009_July_(photo_credit_Phil_Humnicky,_Georgetown)

Dr. Claudine Isaacs is an Associate Professor of Medicine, Director of the Familial Cancer Registry Shared Resource, Director of the Clinical Breast Cancer Program, and the Co-Medical Director of the Fisher Center for Familial Cancer Research at the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, Georgetown Univ., Washington, D.C. (photo credit: Phil Humnicky, Georgetown Univ.)

It does not always happen immediately after counseling or a genetic test result and can take more than seven years for patients to decide to go forward with surgery,” said lead researcher D. Gareth Evans, M.D. Evans is a consultant in clinical genetics at the Genesis Prevention Center, University Hospital of South Manchester NHS Trust and a professor at the University of Manchester, United Kingdom.

Evans and colleagues assessed the increase in risk-reduction surgery among women with breast cancer and evaluated the impact of cancer risk, timing and age.

Rate of increase was measured among 211 women with known unaffected BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation carriers. BRCA1 and BRCA2 are hereditary gene mutations that indicate an increased risk for developing breast cancer. Additionally, more than 3,500 women at greater than 25 percent lifetime risk of breast cancer without mutations also had a documented increase in risk-reduction surgery.

Women who had a biopsy after undergoing risk evaluation were twice as likely to choose a risk-reducing mastectomy. Forty percent of the women who were mutation carriers underwent bilateral risk-reducing mastectomy; 45 percent had bilateral risk-reducing salpingo-oophorectomy (surgical removal of ovaries). These surgeries are widely used by carriers of BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations to reduce the risk for breast and ovarian cancer.

Evaluated by gene type, bilateral risk-reducing salpingo-oophorectomy was more common in women who were BRCA1 gene carriers – 52 percent had the surgery compared with 28 percent of the women who were BRCA2 gene carriers.

“We found that older women were much less likely to have a mastectomy, but were more likely to have their ovaries removed,” said Evans.

Most of the women, specifically those aged 35 to 45 years, opted for surgery within the first two years after the genetic mutation test, but some did not make a decision until seven years later.

“This is a very interesting study. It fleshes out some of what we know about adoption of risk reduction strategies in high-risk women who have participated in a very comprehensive and well thought-out genetic counseling, testing and management program,” said Claudine Isaacs, M.D., an associate professor of medicine and co-director of the Fisher Center for Familial Cancer Research, Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center at Georgetown University.

BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutation carriers have a very high lifetime risk of cancer, and for BRCA1 carriers there are unfortunately no clearly proven non-surgical prevention strategies, according to Isaacs. These women face a 50 to 85 percent lifetime risk of breast cancer, and mastectomy is currently the most effective prevention method available.

The findings confirm the expectations that when a woman has a biopsy, even if benign, most are more likely to opt for risk-reduction surgery.

“Screening should be conducted at a place with expertise in an effort to minimize false-positive results, which often lead to biopsy. This will minimize the anxiety that comes along with such a diagnosis. Patients should consult with an expert in advance and stay in contact with them to see how the science may be changing over time,” she advised. “This is an ongoing conversation that needs to be addressed and individualized for each patient.”

Likewise, Evans suggested that additional studies are needed to help evaluate the communication efforts and methods between doctors and/or counselors and women at risk for breast cancer. Questions to be raised should include how is the communication method occurring, are the doctors sympathetic and is there an ongoing dialogue?

“Careful risk counseling does appear to influence women’s decision for surgery although the effect is not immediate,” the researchers wrote.

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