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New US study finds that surgeons might be over-treating breast cancer

by , 08 June 2015

Many breast cancer patients wrongly believe that having both breasts removed - a double mastectomy - will improve their chance of survival, according to a new study.

“Our finding that so many women are receiving much more extensive surgery than needed to treat their disease is striking,” study author Dr Reshma Jagsi, associate professor or radiation oncology at the University of Michigan Medical School in the US reported.

But why will a double mastectomy not improve your chances of survival? Isn't it widely believed and clinically proven that it will? Read on to find out.

It’s not always necessary for a breast cancer patient to have a double mastectomy

Researchers surveyed more than 1,900 women treated for breast cancer. They found that nearly half had considered having a double mastectomy, but only about one in five underwent the procedure. 
Many who had the more aggressive surgery had no risk factors, such as family history of breast cancer that would increase their odds for cancer in the second breast.
Of those who considered the surgery, 37% knew that it did not improve the chance of survival, the study authors said.
Among the women who did have both breasts removed, 36% believed it would improve their chance of survival, according to the study presented at this week’s annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, in Chicago.
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Previous research has shown that among breast cancer survivors at average risk for a second cancer, removing the cancer-free breast does not significantly improve survival, the researchers said.

Don’t let your surgeon talk you into having a double mastectomy unless they’re sure that it will benefit you

“Women diagnosed with breast cancer are naturally eager to do everything in their power to fight the disease. So many of my patients tell me that they just want to do everything they can to be there for their kids,” Professor Jagsi explained.
“It is up to us, as doctors, to make sure they understand which treatments are really going to do that, and which actions might seem heroic but are actually not expected to improve the outcomes for a typical woman with early stage breast cancer,” Professor Jagsi said.
The study found that surgeons had significant influence on a woman’s decision. Only 4% of patients who said their surgeon recommended against double mastectomy had the procedure, compared with 59% of those who believed their surgeons were in favour of the surgery.
Double mastectomy has been in the spotlight recently. In 2013, actress Angelina Jolie announced she had had a preventive double mastectomy because of a strong family history of breast and ovarian cancer. She’d also tested positive for the genetic mutation BRCA1, which raises breast cancer risk.
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