Given the fatal nature of breast cancer, many women opt to get a mastectomy. Are mastectomies necessary though?
CBS news reports on how common mastectomies have become. Statistics show that the number of American women breast cancer patients electing to have a breast surgically removed has tripled over the last ten years. Researchers are also saying that this move does not offer any survival benefits for women with cancer in one breast.
Dr. Mehra Golshan, chair of surgical oncology at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, and senior author commented on the research. He said, “Our analysis highlights the sustained, sharp rise in popularity of [removing the healthy breast], while contributing to the mounting evidence that this more extensive surgery offers no significant survival benefit to women with a first diagnosis of breast cancer.”
Dr. Golshan is urging caregivers and patients to look at the benefits and risks more before opting for this more extensive form of surgery. He said there are many things to consider such as the extensive recovery time, heightened threat of operative complications, cost, the possible need for repeat surgery, and effects on self-image.
How was the study conducted?
The research team scrutinized information from almost 500,000 women who were diagnosed with stage 1, 2 or 3 cancer in one breast and followed them for over eight years. Out of those patients, the results showed that almost "60 percent overall had breast-conserving surgery, one-third had the diseased breast removed and 7 percent had their healthy breast removed as well."
Statistics show that "rates of removal of the healthy breast (called a contralateral prophylactic mastectomy) went up from 3.9 percent in 2002 to 12.7 percent in 2012."
Experts want patients and caregivers to know that women who had their ‘unaffected breast removed did not have significantly higher survival rates than those who had breast-conserving surgery’, according to the researchers’ results. The study was recently published in the Annals of Surgery.
The experts did state that the more intense treatment may improve survival odds for those patients at a higher risk of breast cancer. This includes those patients with BRCA1/2 gene mutations, a serious family history of breast or ovarian cancer, and those who underwent what is known as ‘mantle field radiation’ during their adolescence. Despite these conditions, the study showed that only one-third of the women who had mastectomies had any of these risk factors.
Researchers say that women who elect to have mastectomies often do it out of fear, anxiety and a desire to extend life but that it is essential that physicians properly explain to these patients whether it will truly behoove them to undertake that option.
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