University of Pennsylvania Health System

Focus on Cancer

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Penn Study Reveals Breastfeeding, Birth Control Pills May Reduce Ovarian Cancer Risk Among BRCA Carriers

Research has shown that women carrying BRCA mutations are at increased risk for ovarian cancer, with a 10-45% risk of developing the disease over the course of their lifetimes compared to the average 1-2% chance.

As a result, both BRCA carriers and their health care providers frequently ask about other factors that may impact ovarian cancer risk for the already high risk population.

"Heredity is Not Destiny"

Towards that end, a group of researchers at Penn's Basser Research Center for BRCA investigated factors that may impact or modify ovarian cancer risk in BRCA carriers.

In their meta-analysis of 44 peer-reviewed articles, Penn researchers found that breastfeeding, tubal ligation- also known as having one's "tubes tied," and oral contraceptive use may all lower the risk of ovarian cancer for some women with BRCA mutations.

Lead author and Basser-funded investigator, Timothy R. Rebbeck, PhD explains that "our analysis reveals that heredity is not destiny, and that working with their physicians and counselors, women with BRCA mutations can take proactive steps that may reduce their risk of being diagnosed with ovarian cancer."

Susan Domchek, MD, executive director of the Basser Research Center for BRCA and co-author on the new paper adds, “It’s imperative that we continue examining and building upon past research in this area so that we can provide BRCA mutation carriers with options at every age, and at every stage of their lives.”

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