A new research paper suggests that women with breast cancer who decide to have a double mastectomy are not improving their chances of survival. The research indicates that having the tumors incised from the breasts, followed by radiotherapy, has a similar rate of survival as a double mastectomy.
The research used the records of nearly 190’000 women in California to determine the findings. According to Dr Allison Kurian from Stanford University: “the average breast cancer patient who has bilateral mastectomy will have no better survival than the average patient who has lumpectomy plus radiation”.
A decade after having breasts removed, 18.8% of women had died, compared to 16.8% of women who had the tumors removed, followed by radiotherapy. These findings have surprised many in the medical community and will surely lead to a reduction in the number of women having mastectomies.
Recently high some profile women, including Angelina Jolie, have had double mastectomies because they carry the BRCA1 gene mutation. The mutation dramatically increases the chance that a woman will have breast cancer. The data in this research does not reflect the women who had completely preventative mastectomies like Jolie. Only the ones who were diagnosed with breast cancer before taking their choice of procedure.
Mastectomies are a substantial surgical procedure that women usually take months to recover from. Having a lumpectomy has a shorter recovery period and allows the woman to retain most of her breast tissue.
The study also highlighted the increase in the number of women have mastectomies. In 1998 only 2% of women diagnosed with breast cancer would choose to have a double mastectomy. That increased to 12.3% in 2011, perhaps a sign that women thought the mastectomy would completely remove the risk of cancer. Many more private health insurers also began to cover mastectomies and breast reconstruction as a part of their policies also
Interestingly the 10 year death rate was highest in women who chose to have only one breast removed, coming in at just over 20%.
Double mastectomies are less common in other countries with the standard procedure in the United Kingdom being a lumpectomy and radiotherapy.