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Pre-Emptive Surgery Fights Cancer Before It Starts

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(Credit: CBS 2)

(Credit: CBS 2)

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NEW YORK (CBS 2) – A new trend has some women fighting cancer before it starts.

Genetic testing can help some women know their risk of breast and ovarian cancer, and a growing number of women are being tested. They’re also making efforts to stop cancer before the disease’s onset – and a new study shows that it’s a good thing.

Sandra Cohen proudly refers to herself as a “pre-vivor.” She never had breast or ovarian cancer, but she has had preventative breast and ovarian surgery. After losing her mother and grandmother to the disease, she lived each day wondering when she would be diagnosed.

“It’s kind of like you are sitting on a time bomb, waiting for cancer to occur,” Cohen said. “It really does a number on you mentally to deal with that every single day.”

Dr. Susan Domchek of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine studied more than 2400 women with harmful breast cancer genes, called BRCA 1 and 2 mutations.

“We’ve known for several years that removing ovaries decreases the risk of ovarian cancer and breast cancer,” said Dr. Domchek. “But what we’ve been able to clearly demonstrate now is that the reduction risk translates to women living longer.”

Some women removed their breasts and some removed their ovaries some removed both – but just removing the ovaries alone helped to prevent both breast and ovarian cancer.

“This risk of breast cancer, for instance, was decreased by 40 percent in women who had BRCA 1 mutations and 60 percent in women who had BRCA 2 mutations,” Dr. Domchek said.

The study appears in this week’s Journal of the American Medical Association.

“One of the most important aspects of this study is that women who have a strong family history of breast and ovarian cancer should consider getting genetic testing,” said Dr. Domchek.

Cohen had the testing, and after talking with her physician and other women in teh same situation,d ecided to have the surgery.

“When you can actually see someone who has gone through it and they look great and they feel great, it gives you the empowerment to move on and to take action,” Cohen said.

Women should keep in mind that making the decision about whether to have preventive breast or ovarian removal is almost never urgent and requires time to weigh all the pros and cons.

Most women spend at least a year making the decision, alongside a breast-cancer specialist and a psychologist.

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