News on Wellness

Double Mastectomies Do Not Improve Cancer Survival Rate

breast-cancerAccording to recent statistics, one of every ten women undergoes a double mastectomy after being diagnosed with breast cancer in an effort to beat the disease. With this type of surgery, both breasts are removed in their entirety. While most women believe this dramatically improves survival rate, a new study shows when compared to less drastic treatments, it does not.

As reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), in 2011, approximately 12% of women diagnosed with breast cancer opted to have a double mastectomy, which is a huge jump from 1998 when only 2% of women made that choice. Of women 40 years and younger, approximately 33% chose having surgery.

Double mastectomies are nothing new but they gained a tremendous amount of attention last year when actress Angeline Jolie underwent the surgery to reduce risk of developing the disease. Her own mother passed away from the disease and because Jolie carried the same gene, she had a 60% chance of also developing breast cancer.

In a ten-year study consisting of 200,000 women with breast cancer who chose a double mastectomy, survival rate was 81%. However, the survival rate for women choosing a lumpectomy instead, which involves only a small portion of the breast being removed, was 83%.

As stated by Scarlett Gomez, a research scientist at Stanford University School of Medicine and the Cancer Prevention Institute of California, it is imperative for women diagnosed with breast cancer to understand all their options, to include pros and cons of each treatment.

With an increasing number of women getting double mastectomies, it makes medical professionals question what their thought process is but more importantly, what type of information they have been provided that leads up to that decision.

Lisa Newman, director of the Breast Care Center at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, says the new findings suggest that doctors should start to encourage women more to consider surgeries that conserve some of the breast. Although breast cancer can affect both breasts, this is extremely rare. In fact, getting cancer in a second breast carries a risk of only 1% or less per year. Even cancer in one breast can be cured, if detected early.

Researchers believe the reason so many women choose to have both breasts removed is after being diagnosed with cancer in one breast, there is an overwhelming fear of it returning. However, they also believe there could be cosmetic reasons since reconstructive surgery could be performed on both breasts at once, thereby eliminating two surgeries if cancer were to develop in a second breast.

Data for this new study came from the California Cancer Registry and included virtually every woman diagnosed with breast cancer in the state of California during the ten-year period. However, certain factors to include genetic predisposition or family history were not included, which ultimately, could identify women at greater risk and thereby, those who would benefit most from a double mastectomy.

The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 230,000 women in the United States alone will be diagnosed with breast cancer just this year. Because of this, it is the most common cancerous tumor that women develop, followed by lung cancer, which causes death in 40,000 people annually.

Unfortunately, when most women are diagnosed with breast cancer, they automatically assume survival rate will improve by opting for the most aggressive form of treatment, according to Newman. While extensive surgery can prove most beneficial in some women, it is still important for all treatment options to be discussed. Women should review all possibilities within the first few weeks of a diagnosis before making a quick decision to have a double mastectomy.

Some treatment differences have also been identified by researchers. For instance, minority women without government funded care or insurance, as well as women within poverty level, typically choose to have a single breast removed over Caucasian and wealthy women, as well as those with excellent insurance benefits.

Gomez goes on to say that the discrepancy in survival rate could also be linked to other health-related illnesses, as well as challenges such as not having transportation for chemotherapy or radiation treatment. For those women, there are not as many treatment choices.

This is not to say that a double mastectomy is the wrong decision, just that it is one treatment option to consider among many.

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