Good News for Bad Cancer Gene Carriers

Breast cancer BRCA1 carriers lived as long as noncarriers

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Mistakes in the BRCA1 gene can increase a woman’s risk of both breast and ovarian cancer. This reality is well-established. What hasn’t been clear is if BRCA carriers are more likely to die from their cancers than are women without the altered genes. A new study offers good news.

Breast cancer survivors with BRCA mutations lived just as long as survivors who didn’t have the defective gene, according to a recently published study.

Carriers who had their ovaries surgically removed tended to have a lower risk for death than women with the gene mutation who had not undergone the surgery.

The study also uncovered differences in the types of breast cancer and the timing of disease diagnosis among carriers and non-carriers.

"If you have a family history of breast cancer, look into BRCA testing."

Tomasz Huzarski, MD, PhD, of Pomeranian Medical University in Opole, Poland, was the lead investigator of this study.

A total 3,345 breast cancer patients were tested for BRCA1 mutations. The women were 50 years old or younger and had been diagnosed with stage l-lll invasive breast cancer between 1996 and 2006. Of the group tested, 233 carried a BRCA1 mutation.

The research team learned that, compared to non-carriers, women with BRCA1 mutations were:

  • Diagnosed with breast cancer at an earlier age (42 versus 44 years old).
  • Less likely to have estrogen receptor positive breast cancer driven by the hormone estrogen (16 percent versus 62 percent) or progesterone receptor positive cancer (20 percent versus 70 percent).
  • Less likely to have HER2-positive tumors (6.5 percent versus 21 percent).
  • More likely to have triple-negative breast cancer, which has no hormone receptors that can be treated (69 percent versus 13 percent).
  • More likely to have had their ovaries removed through a surgery called oophorectomy (50 percent versus 14 percent).

After an average of 7.4 years of follow-up, the researchers found no significant differences in cancer-related deaths. The 10-year survival rate was 80.9 percent for mutation carriers and 82.2 percent for non-carriers.

Women with BRCA1 gene alterations whose cancer had spread to the lymph nodes didn’t live as long as carriers whose cancer had not reached the lymph nodes.

Those who had undergone an oophorectomy lived longer than women with the genetic mutation who had not had their ovaries removed.

Adam Brufsky, MD, PhD, professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, told dailyRx News, “These findings are consistent with our experience. While women who are BRCA-positive have a higher risk of getting breast cancer, the risk of dying of it is generally the same as women who are BRCA-negative.”

Findings from this study were published September 10 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Outside funding information was not provided. The authors did not disclose conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
September 11, 2013
Last Updated:
September 12, 2013