One of Britain’s top breast cancer surgeons has spoken out against mastectomies that he categorizes as medieval. A major new study showed that women who have the operation are less likely to survive the disease than those who opt for more conservative treatments.
In 2013, Hollywood star Angelina Jolie revealed that she had undergone a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery after discovering she carried the faulty BRCA1 gene, which gave her an 87% risk of developing breast cancer and a 50% risk of ovarian cancer. She also underwent preventative removal of her ovaries at the beginning of 2015.
The Jolie story has been powerful. Since the story came out, there has been an influx of women with breast cancer asking for a bilateral mastectomy.
However, it is important to remember, that Jolie did not have cancer. For women that actually do have breast cancer, a mastectomy is like locking the stable door after the horse has run away.
In a majority of cases, the operation will not give women any better chance of survival. It is all the other treatments they receive afterwards that will give them the best fighting chance.
Dutch researchers collected data from 37,207 cases diagnosed between 2000 and 2004 and then analyzed how many women were still alive after ten years.
Just over half of the women received breast-conserving surgery followed by radiotherapy while the rest of the women had a mastectomy, chemotherapy and hormone therapy such as tamoxifen but not radiotherapy.
76.8% of the women who underwent breast-conserving surgery were still alive ten years later, compared to 59.7% of the women who had a mastectomy.
All the women in the study had tumors that were smaller than 5 cm, meaning the cancer is considered to be in an early stage.
The study also found that there were fewer secondary tumors in the breast-conserving surgery group, indicating that radiotherapy may have played an important role in the difference in outcomes from both treatments.
These findings confirm the benefits of breast-conserving surgery combined with radiotherapy. The findings also confirm that there is truly no benefit for a mastectomy.
A second study found that women who undergo surgical reconstruction of the breast at the same time as having a mastectomy are more than twice as likely to suffer harmful complications such as infections, fat necrosis and even rib fractures as those who have mastectomy, or lumpectomy and radiotherapy.