Breast Cancer Patients In a Handful of States Opting for Preventive Mastectomies

Women who live in certain parts of the United States and who have been diagnosed with early stage breast cancer are choosing to have double mastectomies instead of just removing the one affected breast. The very same study also says that the option is particularly true of younger women.

According to lead study author Dr. Ahmedin Jemal, roughly half of all women under the age of 45 who are diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer (in 5 states) opt for the double procedure. The Vice President for the American Cancer Society’s Surveillance and Health Services Research Program reports the preventive measure option has increased from less than 4 percent to more than 10 percent frequency (among women age 45 and older) and a staggering 10 percent to more than 33 percent frequency among women 22 to 44.

The fives states noted in the study are: Nebraska, Colorado, Missouri, Iowa, and South Dakota. Jemal makes sure to note that they still do not understand the geographic context of the data or how it may be associated to any aspect of the choices these women are making about their health care.

Henry Ford Health System (Detroit) director of breast oncology, Dr. Lisa Newman editorialized on the study. She advises that these strong regional differences are important, particularly since they provide researchers and medical professionals with more information.

For example, this data easily lends to an advisory that women should “Have a frank discussion with your surgeon[s] so that you clearly understand whether or not you are eligible for breast-saving lumpectomy surgery to treat the known cancer.”

She goes on to advise that those who are, in fact, candidates for breast conservation should not have a good reason to “commit prematurely to unilateral or bilateral mastectomy,” particularly since these particular surgical options do not provide a known survival advantage.

Indeed, having the healthy breast removed can certainly provide some cosmetic, reconstruction advantages, but there is no proof it aids in breast cancer survial or recovery.
As a matter of fact, Newman argues that removing the health breast can actually introduce new complications. Thus, she counsels: “We as physicians must ensure that [patients] understand that the more extensive surgery has a higher complication rate; that it is risk-reducing but not risk-eliminating; and that it does not improve likelihood of curative treatment for the initially diagnosed breast cancer.”

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