A MAJOR rethink over the best way to handle breast cancer patients could be sparked by a Southampton professor’s ground breaking research.

And women who share a genetic mutation with Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie could be the ones to benefit most.

Led by Southampton-based professor, Diana Eccles, the “benchmark” 18-year study looks into the impact of the well-documented ‘BRCA’ mutation on breast cancer patients.

It was previously thought that those with the fault should undertake life-changing surgery, including breast removal, to improve their survival chances.

And the idea was further popularised by Angelina Jolie’s decision to undergo a double mastectomy in 2013 as a precaution, based on a positive BRCA test.

However professor Eccles says that her new research shows that cancer patients who have the BRCA fault are just as likely to survive.

And she says her findings show that having such life changing surgery might not always be the best option for young women.

She said: “This study shows that the cancer itself dictates the best treatment.

“For some people it is a lot to take in to be diagnosed with breast cancer and then be told they have this mutation.

“What I hope this study will do is give patients and their clinicians the confidence to address the question of whether preventative surgery is the right option and wait until the time is right.”

The study involved tracking the progress of more than 2700 breast cancer sufferers from 127 hospitals across the UK.

The biggest group, of around 100 women, came from Southampton.

All of the woman involved in the study were tested for BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 gene faults using blood testing.

Of the whole group, 201 women had BRCA 1 faults and of those 18 per cent were diagnosed with breast cancer for a second time.

Similarly, 12 per cent of BRCA 2 were diagnosed with a second breast cancer.

Of the 2395 woman who did not have a BRCA fault, 97 were diagnosed with breast cancer a second time – around four per cent.

Professor Eccles admits there is an “increased risk” of developing a second cancer for those with a BRCA mutation.

However she said her research shows it’s not as likely as experts originally thought.

“Hypothetically, if all the BRCA carriers did have the preventative surgery then for 20 per cent it was the right decision.

“But the other side of it is that there would be 80 per cent who didn’t need to.”

The results of the £1 million research project, £850,000 of which was funded by Cancer Research UK, will now published in prestigious medical journal, Lancet Oncology.