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July 23, 2017

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Cancer gene warrants breast removal

PARIS -- Women diagnosed with breast cancer caused by a notorious gene have a much better survival chance if they have both breasts removed instead of one, a study said Wednesday.

Out of 100 women with a BRCA gene mutation who have a double mastectomy for early breast cancer, 87 will be alive after 20 years, it said.

This compares to 66 of every 100 who opt for a single amputation, according to the research published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ).

"We conclude that it is reasonable to propose bilateral mastectomy as the initial treatment option for women with early-stage breast cancer who are carriers of a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation," the authors wrote.

For those who have had one breast removed, "the possibility of a second surgery should be discussed," they advised.

Breast cancer has multiple sources, but the best-known inherited causes are the so-called BRCA1 or BRCA2 (for BReast CAncer susceptibility) genes that carry telltale mutations.

About 0.2 percent of women carry a harmful variant of these genes.

It boosts their lifetime risk of contracting breast cancer to as much as 80 percent compared to about 10 percent among women without the mutation. These women also run a high risk of recurrence after treatment.

The mastectomy question was thrown into the spotlight last year when Hollywood star Angelina Jolie announced she had both breasts surgically removed as a preventative measure after tests revealed she carried the BRCA mutation. She had not been diagnosed with the disease.

Rocker Ozzy Osbourne's wife, Sharon, did the same the previous year.

There were some 521,000 breast cancer deaths in 2012, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). It is the most common type of cancer among women.

For the study, specialists in Canada and the United States compared the survival rates of 390 women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer between 1975 and 2009.

They were all known carriers or likely carriers of a mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene.

Of the group, 79 women died in the follow-up period — 18 of them had had a double mastectomy and 61 a single one.

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