Contrary to popular belief, getting a double mastectomy does not increase the chances of survival for most women, a new health study reveals. Researchers compared the procedure to removing only the tumor or the affected breast and raised concerns about more complicated surgeries, which may be unnecessary.
The study was one of the largest conducted and observed 200,000 California women, who had been treated for cancer in one breast and followed their progress for several years. Researchers concluded that the survival rate was almost identical (82 percent) among women who chose lumpectomies (removal of the tumor) plus radiation and those who had a double mastectomy. The findings also indicated that women who had a single mastectomy — the removal of only one breast — fared worse.
These findings confirm what many doctors suspected. A double mastectomy does not increase the rate of survival for women who suffer from breast cancer in one breast, according to Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society.
“There’s no guarantee that by having the second breast removed that you will do better,” said Lichtenfeld.
According to the study, although over half the women decided on a lumpectomy treatment, however, the number of patients who had a double mastectomy spiked to 12 percent between 1998 and 2011. This trend was observed predominantly in women over 40-years-old.
Additionally, the researchers determined that having a double mastectomy increases the chances of survival for women who suffer from breast cancer to one breast, due to hereditary factors. But this affects a relatively small number of women in this category, says the study co-author Scarlett Gomez, a research scientist with the Cancer Prevention Institute of California.
Some celebrities have been very open about their fight against breast cancer and perhaps influenced the masses. Most notably, actress Angelina Jolie made a surprise announcement that she had undergone a double mastectomy when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Christina Applegate also underwent a double mastectomy.
Amy Robach, a co-host at NBC, also opted for the drastic procedure, after she did a piece on breast cancer awareness — at the insistence of her boss and co-workers — and later found out she had breast cancer. These three cases have made some women think in terms of opting for a double mastectomy, despite having only one tumor.
In May, a separate study arrived at a similar conclusion. Many women who opt for a double mastectomy to prevent breast cancer from spreading don’t need to do it. Many women in this situation may be motivated by fear and lack of information, and furthermore, the results revealed that 70 percent of women who had a healthy breast removed had a very low risk of getting a tumor in that healthy breast, according to Sarah Hawley of the University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor, who led the study.
Doctors are paying close attention to the increase in double mastectomies as the medical costs for unnecessary procedures is high. Patients’ preferences and fear that the cancer will return play a role, but fear “usually exceeds estimated risk,” the California study said.
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