About 25 years ago, the National Cancer Institute declared that women with early state breast cancer could be spared mastectomies. This declaration came after multiple studies found that breast removal offered no survival benefits over removing just the lump and following up with radiation treatments.
After this assertion, the rate of mastectomies fell from nearly 100% in the 1980s to less than 40% today.
However experts are seeing a growing trend in mastectomies recently.
Breast surgeons have seen a surge in patients with small nonaggressive tumors who opt to have one or both breasts removed, rather than just removing the malignant lump in one breast.
A recent study found that the percentage of women who opted for a mastectomy over a lumpectomy increased from 34% to 38% from 2003 to 2011. The rates of women having double mastectomies when they only had disease in one breasted drastically increased from 1.9% in 1998 to 11.2% in 2011.
These findings were made after researchers examined a national surgery database of 1.2 million patients with early-stage breast cancer. The study was published in the journal JAMA Surgery.
The study did not focus on the reasons why women with early breast cancer are opting to have the breast removed. However during interviews, half-dozen women named fear of recurrence as the biggest factor and spoke of the relief they felt afterward.
The stigma that was once associated with mastectomy in older generations has definitely changed.
Instead of making a large incision to remove muscle along with breast tissue, surgeons now make a small incision and only remove breast tissue. In addition, recent improvements in breast reconstruction techniques spare the nipple and areola and there is a more widespread insurance coverage for the surgery.
However, while many women assume that a double mastectomy means they’ll never have to worry about breast cancer again, surgeons cannot remove 100% of breast tissue during mastectomies and a thin layer of tissue remains attached to the skin. The risk of developing a new breast tumor after surgery is remote is not zero, and is still a possibility.