Breast cancer after prophylactic bilateral mastectomy in women with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation

N Engl J Med. 2001 Jul 19;345(3):159-64. doi: 10.1056/NEJM200107193450301.


Background: Women with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation have a high risk of breast cancer and may choose to undergo prophylactic bilateral total mastectomy. We investigated the efficacy of this procedure in such women.

Methods: We conducted a prospective study of 139 women with a pathogenic BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation who were enrolled in a breast-cancer surveillance program at the Rotterdam Family Cancer Clinic. At the time of enrollment, none of the women had a history of breast cancer. Seventy-six of these women eventually underwent prophylactic mastectomy, and the other 63 remained under regular surveillance. The effect of mastectomy on the incidence of breast cancer was analyzed by the Cox proportional-hazards method in which mastectomy was modeled as a time-dependent covariate.

Results: No cases of breast cancer were observed after prophylactic mastectomy after a mean (+/-SE) follow-up of 2.9+/-1.4 years, whereas eight breast cancers developed in women under regular surveillance after a mean follow-up of 3.0+/-1.5 years (P=0.003; hazard ratio, 0; 95 percent confidence interval, 0 to 0.36). The actuarial mean five-year incidence of breast cancer among all women in the surveillance group was 17+/-7 percent. On the basis of an exponential model, the yearly incidence of breast cancer in this group was 2.5 percent. The observed number of breast cancers in the surveillance group was consistent with the expected number (ratio of observed to expected cases, 1.2; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.4 to 3.7; P=0.80).

Conclusions: In women with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation, prophylactic bilateral total mastectomy reduces the incidence of breast cancer at three years of follow-up.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • BRCA2 Protein
  • Breast Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics
  • Breast Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Breast Neoplasms / surgery
  • Female
  • Genes, BRCA1*
  • Humans
  • Mastectomy, Simple*
  • Middle Aged
  • Mutation
  • Neoplasm Proteins / genetics*
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Prospective Studies
  • Transcription Factors / genetics*


  • BRCA2 Protein
  • Neoplasm Proteins
  • Transcription Factors