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Study: Many Preventive Double Mastectomies Likely Unnecessary

Study: Many Preventive Double Mastectomies Likely Unnecessary

May 23, 2014 — About 70% of women who opt for a double mastectomy after a cancer diagnosis in one breast do not have risk factors indicating they are likely to develop the disease in the other breast, according to a new study in JAMA Surgery, Medical News Today reports (Ellis, Medical News Today, 5/22).

The Society of Surgical Oncology recommends that only patients who have an increased risk for breast cancer, such as those with a genetic susceptibility or a strong family history, undergo a preventive double mastectomy. According to Reuters, there is a lack of evidence that the procedure improves survival for women without those risk factors.

However, researchers at the University of Michigan Medical School found that the rate of such procedures had increased, even though less than 10% of women meet the recommendations for a double preventive mastectomy.

The researchers investigated the inconsistency by examining data on 1,447 women in Los Angeles and Detroit who were diagnosed with breast cancer between 2005 and 2007. The researchers focused on women who elected to have a double mastectomy and their reasons for doing so (Seaman, Reuters, 5/21).

Key Findings

The researchers found that 8% of the women had a double mastectomy and that 18% considered undergoing the procedure (MedPage Today, 5/22).

Women were more likely to opt for a preventive double mastectomy if they underwent genetic testing, had a family history of cancer, reported higher education levels, underwent an MRI or presented with strong anxiety over developing cancer in their healthy breast (Reuters, 5/21).

Sarah Hawley, lead author and an associate professor at Michigan University Medical School, said, "Women appear to be using worry over cancer recurrence to choose [preventive double mastectomies]." She said that the trend "does not make sense, because having a non-affected breast removed will not reduce the risk of recurrence in the affected breast" (MedPage Today, 5/22).