A systematic review of the literature was conducted to assess the outcomes of preventive interventions (prophylactic surgery, intensive cancer screening, and chemoprevention) in women who carry mutations in BRCA1/2 genes, in terms of reducing breast and gynaecological cancer incidence and/or mortality. A search for relevant articles published between 1996 and 2005 (inclusive) was run on Medline, Embase and other databases. From the 749 journal articles retrieved from this search strategy, 18 studies were eligible for this review (2 systematic reviews, 10 cohort studies and 6 case-control studies). The critical appraisal of the studies was performed by two independent reviewers with a list of ad hoc selected criteria. The synthesis of results was qualitative. Mastectomy and prophylactic gynaecological surgery (oophorectomy or salpingo-oophorectomy) reduced breast and gynaecological cancer incidence in carriers of BRCA mutations, by comparison to surveillance. However, all the studies presented flaws in internal and external validity, none of these preventive interventions is risk-free, and protection against breast and gynaecological cancer, as well as other cancers linked to BRCA mutations, is incomplete. No studies comparing surveillance programmes of varying intensity were found. Exposure to drugs (tamoxifen, and oral contraceptives) in women carrying BRCA mutations was assessed through a limited number of papers. All of these were case-control studies with prevalent cases and presented major methodological flaws.
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