New research has revealed that most women who have mastectomies are actually at low risk of having breast cancer recurrence. The research was carried out by University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center and shows there may be too many women opting for mastectomies to safeguard against the risk of cancer.
The study was recently published in the JAMA Surgery journal and finds that up to 70% of women who are opting for contralateral prophylactic mastectomies may not need the procedure as their cancer recurrence risk is low.
Researchers suggest that women tend to err on the side of caution because of the emotional and physical trauma of dealing with breast cancer. Many see having a mastectomy as a complete removal of a potential problem and a way to ensure the cancer is eliminated.
The study looked at 1447 women who had been successfully treated for breast cancer and did not have a recurrence. They found that 8% opted for mastectomies and 18% considered having a mastectomy. Researchers found that women with a higher level of education were more likely to go for a mastectomy because they believe it gave them the best chance of survival and preventing any additional cancer.
The reality is that 10 years after diagnosis, only 3% of women will have a breast cancer recurrence in healthy breast tissue.
There are risk factors that do increase the chance of breast cancer recurrence including the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 gene mutations. Those gene mutations do substantially increase the risk of breast cancer recurrence and doctors do suggest those patients have the surgery. About 10% of breast cancer cases have the gene mutation.
Despite that small number carrying the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 gene mutations, the number mastectomies if rapidly increasing and went from 39 per 1000 in 1998 to 207 per 1000 in 2008. That means many women who are not carrying those genes and are at low risk of breast cancer recurrence are opting to have their healthy breast tissue removed.
Besides the fear of cancer recurrence driving the increase in mastectomies, new insurance policy requirements may also be contributing. In recent years health insurance companies have been compelled to offer reconstructive breast surgery at the same time as a mastectomy. That means when women opt for a mastectomy, the insurance company will be compelled to pay for a new pair of breasts.
The trend is concerning because there are various risks and side effects of having a mastectomy including pain and a loss of sensation in the breasts.