Young women treated for breast cancer who carry faulty BRCA genes are not less likely to survive than those without them, research suggests.
A study of nearly 3,000 British women also found that a double mastectomy straight after being diagnosed with this type of breast cancer did not improve survival over 10 years.
But researchers said surgery could still be beneficial in the long term.
Experts said women with breast cancer can take time to decide.
The BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer by four-to-eightfold.
It has been dubbed the ‘Angelina Jolie gene’, after the actress revealed she underwent preventative surgery on learning she had an up to 87% chance of developing breast cancer.
Mutations in these genes stop DNA repairing itself and increase the risk of cancer developing.
They are also linked to an increased risk of ovarian and prostate cancers, as well as breast cancer.
In the study, those with the BRCA mutation were equally likely to have survived at the two-, five- and 10-year mark as those without the genetic mutation.
The study, published in The Lancet Oncology, found 12% of 2,733 women aged 18 to 40 treated for breast cancer at 127 hospitals across the UK between 2000 and 2008 had a BRCA mutation.
The women’s medical records were tracked for up to 10 years.
During this time, 651 of the women died from breast cancer, and those with the BRCA mutation were equally likely to have survived the first 10 years as those without the genetic mutation.
This was not affected by the women’s body mass index or ethnicity.
About a third of those with the BRCA mutation had a double mastectomy to remove both breasts after being diagnosed with cancer. This surgery did not appear to improve their chances of survival at the 10-year mark.
‘More time to decide’
The study’s author, Professor Diana Eccles, of the University of Southampton, said: “Women diagnosed with early breast cancer who carry a BRCA mutation are often offered double mastectomies soon after their diagnosis or chemotherapy treatment.
“However, our findings suggest that this surgery does not have to be immediately undertaken along with the other treatment.”
Surgery may still be beneficial for patients to reduce their risk in the longer term, such as two to three decades after their initial diagnosis, she said.
Fiona MacNeill, of the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, who was not involved in the research, said: “This study can reassure young women with breast cancer, particularly those with triple negative cancer or who are BRCA carriers, that breast conservation with radiotherapy is a safe option in the first decade after diagnosis and double mastectomy is not essential or mandatory at initial treatment.
She added: “In view of this, younger women with breast cancer can take time to discuss whether radical breast surgery is the right choice for them as part of a longer-term risk reducing strategy.”
Katherine Woods, from charity Breast Cancer Now said the findings “could enable many patients to make even more informed choices regarding their treatment”.
“In particular, being able to give some women with triple negative breast cancer the choice to delay a risk-reducing mastectomy would allow them to take back control of a major part of their treatment and offer them more time to recover from their initial therapy.”
She said she was now keen to understand how women fared more than 10 years after their diagnosis.
The authors note the findings do not apply to older women.
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Breast cancer gene mutation ‘doesn’t affect survival’