Women who survive ovarian cancer might only do so thanks to the very defective genes thought to increase their risk of developing the disease.
Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association indicates that women with faulty BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes, which raise the risk of both breast and ovarian cancer, have a greater survival rate than those who do not have these defective genes.
Examining the tests of more than 1,200 women, it emerged that 44% and 52% of women with BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 faults respectively were still alive five years after being diagnosed with epithelial ovarian cancer. In comparison, just 36% of women without a BRCA mutation survived as long as five years if they developed the cancer.
The researchers speculate that the mutations affect the biology of the tumours once they have developed, weakening them by allowing their DNA to become damaged.
Lead researcher Dr Paul Pharoah, from Cambridge University, said: “Our results could change the way ovarian cancer is treated.
“Women with BRCA faults respond better than we thought to current treatments but it’s important that researchers now look at what treatment approaches work best for women without those genetic faults.”