Boost support for women at high risk of breast, ovarian cancers

Volume 5, Issue 2, 2016


Research shows a need to help women sort through complex options to prevent hereditary cancer.

Photograph of Lynn C. Hartmann, M.D.

Lynn C. Hartmann, M.D.

Photograph of Noralane M. Lindor, M.D.

Noralane M. Lindor, M.D.

In a review article published in the New England Journal of Medicine, a pair of Mayo Clinic Cancer Center researchers provides an in-depth look at the issues associated with the care of women in families with hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome who have not yet developed cancer themselves.

The article, published Feb. 4, 2016, addresses optimal risk assessment for breast cancer and ovarian cancer, the usefulness of risk-reducing surgery, side effects of these procedures, alternative strategies for cancer prevention, and the best ways to help with the decision-making process.

"Women whose families have been marked by excess breast and ovarian cancers are at higher risk of developing those diseases over their lifetimes," said lead author Lynn C. Hartmann, M.D., an oncologist with the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center, Rochester, Minnesota. "Although these women can reduce their risk considerably through preventive mastectomies or the removal of their fallopian tubes and ovaries, or both, these procedures come with their own complications and psychosocial effects."

In the article, Dr. Hartmann and co-author Noralane M. Lindor, M.D., a pathologist and genetics expert with the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center, Scottsdale, Arizona, argue for greater support for women grappling with complex and emotionally charged decisions, and for more research to develop improved treatment approaches for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome.

"Most of the research thus far examined whether or not these procedures could actually prevent cancer and to what extent," Dr. Hartmann said. "Now that we have evidence of the efficacy of the surgeries, there has been a shift toward looking at the psychological impact of these procedures on women. The studies that have been done thus far indicate that most women are satisfied with the choice that they make, but more research is needed to figure out how we can help them sort through their options in the most helpful manner."