Removing fallopian tubes may cut cancer risk

WOMEN with so-called cancer genes should consider having their fallopian tubes removed to guard against a heightened risk of ovarian cancer, an expert has said.

Angelina Jolie: actress carried killer gene. Picture: Reuters

Providing they have had children, women who are found to be carrying the BRCA1 or 2 genes, such as actress Angelina Jolie, should think about such a course of action according to Professor Sean Kehoe, one of the UK’s leading gynaecological oncologists.

Professor Kehoe, of the University of Birmingham, who has pioneered several studies to improve low survival rates in ovarian cancer, pointed to “a groundswell of evidence” suggesting the disease often starts in the fallopian tubes of women carrying the genes and not the ovaries, as previously thought.

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He said: “Women who carry the BRCA1 gene are currently advised to have their ovaries removed by the time they are 40; whilst carriers of the BRCA2 gene are advised to have them removed no later than 50. This procedure normally includes removal of the fallopian tubes.

“There may be certain situations whereby removal of the fallopian tube at an earlier age than that recommended for the ovaries be deemed appropriate – but there is a need to investigate this further.”

He added: “More research is needed to show that this approach would provide a worthwhile reduction in their risk of developing ovarian cancer, but based on recent findings there is evidence to support this concept. One disadvantage would be the need for two operations, hence the need to research this in much more detail.”

Ovarian cancer is known as the silent killer because its symptoms often present too late for effective intervention.

Up to 7,000 women a year are diagnosed with the disease and 4,500 die. One in ten ovarian cancers are caused by an inherited faulty gene.

Jolie is the latest and most high-profile star to highlight the dilemma facing women at high risk of developing breast cancer.

The actress revealed in May that she had undergone a preventative double mastectomy to reduce her risk of developing the disease because she found she carries BRCA1, which sharply increases her risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer. Her mother Marcheline Bertrand died of cancer in 2007.

Dr James Brenton, a Cancer Research UK ovarian cancer expert, said: “Removing the fallopian tube from women with a BRCA fault could reduce their risk of developing ovarian cancer without the side-effects that removing the ovaries would have.

“But there have been no studies to show how effective this could be.

“Any woman who carries a BRCA fault should speak to her doctor to discuss the possibilities for them.”