A Double Take on Double Mastectomies

The double mastectomy has been a major subject of discussion in recent years with famous high-profile celebrities undergoing the major operation to reduce their chances of developing breast cancer. It continues to be an option for women with a high risk of developing the disease due to the inheritance of a faulty BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene. However, new research has shown that a double mastectomy does not necessarily provide higher chances of survival in women who have already been diagnosed with the disease.

According to a recent study carried out by leading US scientists at Stanford University, the removal of both breasts does not extend patients’ lives any further than undergoing standard lumpectomy surgery to remove the cancerous tumour and infected cells. The study, published in the Journal of The American Medical Association, was carried out on 189,734 women in California who have been affected with the illness from stages zero to three in one breast. Further statistics showed that the number of breast cancer patients opting for the double mastectomy increased from 2% in 1998 to 12.3% in 2011, with the highest proportion of deaths occurring within 10 years coming from those women who chose to undergo a unilateral mastectomy. Survival rates of breast cancer caught in stage one are above 80% without the need of a mastectomy. Yet the rate of women opting to have both the infected and healthy breasts removed continues to rise, despite there being a very low risk factor to the healthy breast.

Double mastectomy is not yet routinely offered to patients in the UK under the NHS because the research on the rates of survival compared to standard lumpectomy proves inconclusive. Radiotherapy continues to be the dominant treatment in Britain unless advised otherwise by doctors. The decision to undergo a bilateral mastectomy is very difficult for women and the surgery itself requires a significant recovery period. It is important that the risks and benefits of the surgery, compared to radiotherapy, are highlighted to every woman before any decision is reached.

Original Study: http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1900512

Feature Image: www.startgrants.com/national-breast-cancer-awareness-fund-support-the-fights-against-the-breast-cancer.php

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