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Study Shows Double Mastectomy May Be Unnecessary With Single Breast Cancer Diagnosis

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(Photo Credit: KDKA)

(Photo Credit: KDKA)

(Source: KDKA-TV) Dr. Maria Simbra
Dr. Maria Simbra is an Emmy award-winning medical journalist, who...
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CBS Pittsburgh (con't)

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – A growing number of women are choosing to have a double mastectomy when diagnosed with cancer in just one breast.

“The use of double mastectomy indeed increased steadily over time from the period of 1988 to 2011,” Scarlett Gomez of the Cancer Prevention Institute of California said.

In fact, it’s up 14 percent.

The reasons are unclear, but perhaps it’s the effect of celebrities taking about it, or the availability of better reconstructive techniques.

“Even though the plastic surgeons do a great job, it’s still not a breast. It doesn’t feel the same, it doesn’t act the same,” Allegheny General Hospital breast surgeon Dr. Kathleen Erb said.

Despite its higher complication rate, one in three women younger than 40 are opting for the double procedure.

“A cancer diagnosis is always a very upsetting thing to find out about yourself, and I think there is certainly the feeling among many women that I don’t want to go through this again, and therefore, I’m going to have the other breast removed,” Dr. Erb said.

But does this really increase survival?

That’s what researchers from Standford looked at in 189,000 women of different racial, ethnic, and economic backgrounds over seven years.

They were diagnosed with early stage breast cancer in just one breast, and were treated with either single mastectomy, double mastectomy, or lumpectomy with radiation.

The women who had a single mastectomy had worse survival than those having a double mastectomy or a lumpectomy plus radiation. They also tended to be of lower income, and had public insurance.

The women who had the double mastectomy tended to be non-Hispanic whites with higher incomes and private insurance.

But it turns out, when considering all causes of death, the women who had the double mastectomy did not have increased survival either.

“The chance that your original cancer is going to come back is much greater than the chance that you’re going to get a cancer in your other breast,” Dr. Erb said.

The study shows buying more surgery doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve bought more time.

“Unless you’re a woman who has a particular genetic predisposition to getting breast cancer, that the chance you’re going to have breast cancer in your other breast in your remaining life is really not that large,” Dr. Erb said.

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