Breast cancer survivors have double mastectomies they do not need

Breast cancer survivors have double mastectomies they do not need

Research on more than 120 women who had a double mastectomy found that they believed the risks that cancer would return were twice as high as they were.
The study in the US examined women aged between 26 and 40, who had suffered breast cancer and chosen to have their remaining healthy breast removed, in a bid to improve their survival chances.
It found that on average, women thought they had a 10 per cent risk that the disease would recur in their breasts, when the true risk was between two and four per cent.

Researchers said that although such patients were slightly reducing their risk of cancer, the disease was far more likely to spread to the rest of the body, which would not be helped by pre-emptive removal of a healthy breast.

Figures in this country show that around 3 per cent of breast cancer sufferers undergo a double mastectomy.
In recent years, breakthroughs identifying the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic mutations, which significantly increase the chance of aggressive cancers, have meant increasing numbers of women have opted for surgery to remove healthy breasts, and protect them from future disease.

However, the US study published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, found that women without the mutations vastly over-estimated their risks, with 98 per cent saying that fears of cancer returning had prompted their decision.

Dr Shoshana Rosenberg, a researcher at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in the United States, said: “An increasing percentage of women treated for early-stage breast cancer are choosing to have CPM.
“The trend is particularly notable among younger women.”

Experts warn that many young breast cancer patients are battling the disease without the right information and taking the drastic measures despite there being little benefit to their health.
A substantial number of cancer patients struggle with the physical and psychological consequences of having both breasts removed, the research found.

In the study women said their appearance was worse than they expected, while almost half said their sense of sexuality was affected more than they expected.

Dr Rosenberg said: “Improving the communication of those risks and benefits, together with better management of anxiety surrounding diagnosis and providing patients with the support they need to make decisions based on solid evidence are worthwhile steps.”

By Laura Donnelly

The Independent, 17th September 2013

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