Chris Evert Now Cancer-Free, With "a 90% Chance It Will Never Come Back"—Here are the Signs to Watch For
Tennis star Chris Evert is free of ovarian cancer after a year of chemotherapy treatments, and "there's a 90% chance that the ovarian cancer will never come back," she posted to ESPN.com.
Evert was diagnosed with stage 1 ovarian cancer in late 2021 after her sister Jeanne Colette Dubin died of the same illness. Evert was found to carry the same BRCA genetic mutation as Jeanne Dubin, and doctors were able to detect the presence of malignant cells and a tumor in the cancer's early stages, she said.
"It is only because of the genetic road map my sister left behind and the power of scientific progress that we caught my cancer early enough to do something about it," Evert posted. "My doctor said if left undiscovered, in four months' time I would probably have been Stage 3 like Jeanne, with very few options."
Now, Evert is on a mission to alert others to the risks of similar genetic signs for cancers, which include ovarian, breast, prostate and pancreatic cancer. Evert has undergone a hysterectomy and double mastectomy, which cut her risk of developing cancer in the future by 90 percent, she said.
"When it comes to deciding between surveillance or surgery, everyone's choice is personal," Evert said. "The most important thing is not to leave things to chance. Of the 25 million women and men worldwide who have a BRCA mutation, only 10% know they are carriers. When I talk to people about genetic testing, so many people say, 'It's too scary to know.' I'm here to tell you, it's scarier not to."
Half of men and one-third of women will receive a cancer diagnosis during their lifetimes, according to the American Cancer Society. Overall, the rate of cancer deaths has dropped 33 percent — nearly 3.8 million lives — since 1991, the society reports. But the society projects nearly 2 million new cancer cases and more than 600,000 U.S. deaths for this year.
Here's what to look for.
Evert and her sister both tested positive for a mutation of the BRCA1 gene.
"BRCA1 and BRCA2 are tumor suppressor genes, which means that they keep cells from growing too rapidly," according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. "Everyone has these genes. Changes or mutations in these genes mean they do not work properly and cells can grow out of control, which can lead to cancer."
One in 300 to 800 people carry a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation, the college says.
The Increased Cancer Risk
A BRCA mutation increases the risk of breast cancer in women to as high as 85 percent by age 70, compared with a lifetime risk of about 12 percent without the mutation, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Similarly, the BRCA1 mutation increases the risk of ovarian cancer for the average American woman to as high as 46 percent by age 70, compared with a lifetime risk of about 2 percent without it. The BRCA2 mutation increases the risk to as high as 27 percent by age 70.
Both men and women with the mutations are at higher risk of developing cancer of the fallopian tube, breast, prostate, peritoneum, pancreas and skin (melanoma).
Screening can identify whether you have any of the BRCA mutations or other genetic cancer risk factors.
Getting tested is a personal decision, says Katherine Clayback, genetic counselor at the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo, New York.
"One of the most common ways to go about screening is to start at younger ages or do screening more often," Clayback says. She adds: "We might do an annual breast MRI as well."
Family history is an important factor in deciding whether and when to get tested. "We know that if we find one of these genetic mutations, really any type of breast cancer can occur for someone or their family," Clayback says. "It's not always the same type. And so we always recommend if someone feels like they have these different patterns and red flags in their family, there's a couple different ways to go about being evaluated by genetics."
"If you're a woman, you have a one in eight chance of getting breast cancer during your lifetime," says Dr. Christiana Brenin, a breast medical oncologist. "In its early stages, there may be no symptoms for detecting breast cancer, but as the cancer grows, there are changes that both women and men should watch out for."
Those can include a lump or thickening, such as a mass; swelling; skin irritation or distortion in or near the breast or in the underarm area; a change in the size or the shape of your breast; a change in the color or the feel of the skin of the breast, the areola or the nipple, she says.
"It might be dimpled," Brenin adds. "It could be scaly or puckered. You may notice nipple discharge, erosion, tenderness, inversion, which means that the nipple would be pointing inward."
If you have a new finding that lasts two weeks or longer and that is unusual for you, "reach out to your doctor," she says. "With early diagnosis, there's a 98 percent chance of surpassing the five-year survival rate for breast cancer."
What to Do if You Test Positive
"I had two choices: I could monitor my health closely with annual mammograms, MRIs and ultrasounds, or I could have another surgery to lessen my risk," Evert said. "I wanted to get all the facts before I made my decision. After talking to a lot of doctors and sitting with everything my sister went through, I decided I had to do whatever I could to improve my odds."
Clayback lays out the options. "There are certain medications we can take to reduce our risk, all the way up to some of those surgical options," she says. "Removing the breast tissue before a cancer ever develops. And I think it's important to note that it's not a one-size-fits-all approach. … Anytime one of these mutations are found, … everyone picks something different that feels best for them."