The research is constantly changing so available statistics vary, sometimes widely. However, research supports that for some types of hereditary cancer, preventative options available do indeed reduce cancer risk to a high degree by preventing that cancer type from ever developing.
Note: We are very thankful these options exist. However, they don't come without personal cost and often require additional medical treatment. We hope to see less invasive options for future generations who, based on existing research based on the BRCA genes, have been shown to develop hereditary cancer at younger ages than in the previous generation, by nearly a decade. If you are reading this you are probably a risky gene carrier yourself or you love someone who is. Please click here to learn more about existing barriers to identification and care and how to best tear them down.
For risky gene carriers who have not yet developed cancer (previvors), or those who have developed hereditary cancer and want to reduce the risk of recurrence or a second primary site, certain drugs may be recommended.
The birth control pill has been proven to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer by up to 50% for BRCA mutation carriers and may be recommended for women with other risky gene mutations. However, research also supports that birth control pills are a risk factor for breast cancer, so be cautious if breasts are still intact.
Medications that suppress estrogen may be suggested to reduce the risk of breast cancer. Unfortunately, most of the research available to support the use of these drugs are based only on general population studies and are not specifically on risky gene carriers. The most commonly used drug for this purpose is Tamoxifen, thought to reduce cancer risk by up to 40%. Raloxifene is also a popular choice and in some cases Aromatase Inhibitors such as Anastrozole (Arimidex), Letrozole (Femara) and Exemestane (Aromasin) may be suggested.
There are side effects from all drugs, so learn what they are and weigh the risks.
The most effective cancer risk-reducing strategy is surgery which, for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer, has been proven to be effective up to 96%. For women, this usually means removal of both breasts (double-mastectomy) followed by breast reconstruction (if desired), and removal of the ovaries (oopherectomy) and fallopian tubes (in some cases removal of the uterus (hysterectomy) and top of the cervix may be recommended as well).
Male double-mastectomy may be offered where personal risk warrants it, but there are currently no surgical strategies available to prevent hereditary prostate cancer. Risk management for the related cancer types should be discussed with medical professionals.
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Disclaimer: This website is for educational and informational purposes only and may not be construed as medical advice, nor is this information intended to replace advice offered by medical professionals.
Risky genes is a genetic condition that can cause any of several types of cancer due to the presence of inherited mutations in any of many different genes. Our old name, The Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Society, was based on old science that no longer reflects the true scope of this condition.