Impact of family history on choosing risk-reducing surgery among BRCA mutation carriers

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Despite substantial survival benefits of risk-reducing mastectomy (RRM) and risk-reducing bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy (RRBSO) among BRCA mutation carriers, only a minority elect to undergo these procedures. This study investigates factors that might influence decision making regarding prophylactic surgeries among women with BRCA mutations.

Study Design

Unaffected BRCA mutation carriers who were counseled at our center and either underwent prophylactic surgery or participated in a high-risk surveillance program at our institution from 1998 through 2010 were included in the study. Medical records were reviewed and data collected included age, family history, parity, mutation type, history of breast biopsy or cosmetic surgery, and uptake of prophylactic surgeries.


Among 136 unaffected women with BRCA mutations, uptake of RRM was 42% and uptake of RRBSO was 52%. Family history of first- and second-degree relatives being deceased from breast cancer was predictive of uptake of RRM and of RRBSO (odds ratio [OR], 11.0; P = .005; and OR, 15.8; P = .023, respectively), and history of a mother lost to pelvic cancer was predictive of uptake of RRBSO (OR, 7.9; P = .001). Parity also predicted both RRM and RRBSO uptake (OR, 4.2; P = .001; and OR, 5.4; P = .003, respectively). Age at the time of genetic testing and history of breast biopsy or cosmetic surgery were not predictive of RRM uptake.


Perceptions of cancer risk are heavily influenced by particular features of an individual's family history and may be motivators in preventive surgery more than actual cancer risk estimations themselves. Awareness of subtle factors beyond the statistical risk for cancers is relevant when counseling at-risk women.

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