Preventive surgery could help women carrying genetic mutations favoring breast and ovarian cancer, though the surgery suggested by a new research is rather drastic as it calls for removing the breasts or ovaries before the first signs of the disease.

The study, conducted by a team of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, and published in the latest issue of the Journal of American Medical Association, says that in general women who choose to get these surgeries done will reduce their risk of dying of breast of ovarian cancer by 70 to 80 percent.

Senior author Dr. Timothy Rebbeck of the University says the 22-Center trial was one of the largest ever that studied more than 2,500 women who had inherited mutations in the BRCA1 or the BRCA2 genes.

These mutations carry a lifetime risk of breast cancer ranging between 56 to 84 percent while the risk of ovarian cancer ranges between 36 and 63 percent for BRCA1 mutation careers and between 10 to 27 percent for BRCA2 mutation carriers.

Nearly 50 percent of the women who took part in the study had undergone either mastectomies (to remove breasts) or salpingo-oophorectomies (to remove ovaries and fallopian tubes) between 1974 and 2008. These women were followed for an average of three years during which no events of breast or ovarian cancers were seen.

However, seven percent of the women in the group who had not undergone surgery were diagnosed with breast cancer. Over six years of follow-up, the incidence of ovarian cancer among BRCA2 mutation carriers who were operated upon was zero while three percent of the group who did not have surgery did report ovarian cancer.

"One of the main messages of our study is that salpingo-oophorectomy should be part of any management plan for any woman who is found to have these genetic mutations," says Rebbeck while suggesting that there was nothing else that could actually reduce a woman's risk to cancer to such an extent.

The researchers further emphasized that all women with a family history of early breast or ovarian cancer should undergo genetic testing and hoped that the latest research will encourage more women to ask their primary care physicians if they need to seek genetic counseling for cancer.