Why Are Mastectomies on the Rise, Despite the Survival Rate Evidence Against Them

Buried in last week’s news that double mastectomies don’t improve survival outcomes for women with breast cancer – among the general population, not those with a genetic predisposition to the disease – was another interesting tidbit: Women with early stage disease treated with lumpectomy and radiation had higher survival rates than those who’d had a single mastectomy alone, according to this report from online newsmagazine Slate

In 2013, the largest-ever observational study of women with early breast cancer also found lumpectomy with radiation was associated with not just equivalent, but better survival odds than mastectomy. Women over 50 with hormone-receptor positive disease had the greatest advantage—a 13 percent lower risk of death from breast cancer. These results are significant because, after declining throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, the rates of mastectomy among women with stage I or II cancer began rising again in 2005.

Notwithstanding the very public decisions by an increasing number of high-profile women – Amy Robach, Samantha Harris, Wanda Sykes, Christina Applegate – often hailed as heroic by the media for removing both breasts after diagnosis – Dr. Susan Love, founder of the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation and author of Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book, says removing the organ that betrayed you offers the illusion of control:

“Most women don’t realize that cancer in your breast is not what kills you. Rather it’s the cancer cells that make it to more important organs—the lungs, the liver, the bones. So the living or dying part is not about what you do to the breast; it is the systemic treatments such as chemotherapy, hormone therapy and/or targeted therapy like Herceptin that make the big difference. But having a mastectomy or bilateral mastectomies gives you the illusion of control at a very scary time and for many women that itself is worth it.”

Read the full story and how these considerations may affect your treatment decisions in Slate.

[Image source: Slate]

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