Many women who receive unclear results about whether they are carriers of the BRCA gene choose to have further ovarian screening and surgeries anyway. The increased screening is not shown to improve treatment and the surgery could be putting women at increased risk for complications and cause them to start menopause early.
In the larger population, women have a 1 to 2 percent of developing ovarian cancer during their lifetimes. For carriers of the BRCA gene, that risk can go as high as 40 percent. Women with the BRCA1 gene have a 40 percent chance of developing the illness, while women with the BRCA2 gene have a 20 percent chance. According to the study published in a recent issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, women who learn that they are carriers for the gene must contend with potentially undergoing a salpino-oopherectomy or dealing with conflicting recommendations if they choose to forgo or delay additional screening. Indeed, most women - 69.6 percent - who carry the gene choose to have their ovaries removed.
For women whose tests were inconclusive, 37.3 percent reported having had a transvaginal ultrasonography and 33.8 percent said that they had a serum cancer antigen 125 screening. Shockingly, 12.3 percent also underwent a procedure to have their ovaries removed. The researchers noted that women had these procedures performed despite the fact that evidence remains inconclusive about whether they are effective.
The study was based on the self-reported responses of 1,077 women at two hospitals. The women had undergone BRCA testing and genetic counseling. The average participant was 53 years old; 83.7 percent were white. Of the participants, 18.7 percent of the women learned that they carried the gene, while 9.6 percent received a true-negative result; 71.8 percent of women received an uninformative result.
Study authors admitted that the trial could have been limited by women's misinterpretation of survey questions. They also did not control for women's vision of treatment and the role that physicians' recommendations may have played.