Many women are taking extreme measures to avoid going through breast cancer again, according to a newly published study in the journal Cancer.
The study found more women are choosing to remove their healthy breast, to reduce their risk of finding another tumor later. Preventive mastectomies often are considered drastic and unnecessary by many doctors, who note they can lead to complications.
Not every woman who has breast cancer will get another breast cancer in the opposite breast, but some women may be at a higher risk, says Kelly K. Hunt, M.D. a professor of surgical oncology at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.
The study involved 540 women who underwent a mastectomy to remove a cancerous breast and a precautionary mastectomy of the healthy breast, a procedure called contralateral prophylactic mastectomy (CPM).
Tests immediately following CPM showed 95 percent of the women had no cancer in that breast and only 1.5 percent had an invasive tumor in that breast.
CPM significantly reduces the risk of contralateral breast cancer, acknowledges scientists, but the procedure is more aggressive and irreversible
Researchers also followed another group of 1,574 women that underwent a mastectomy to remove a cancerous breast but not a preventive mastectomy of their healthy breast. Over a period of four years, 2.4% of the women developed breast cancer in the remaining breast. It is unclear how many cancers were invasive tumors.
Researchers detected three common factors among women that make cancer in the other breast much more likely:
-- More than one tumor in the breast when first diagnosed
-- Invasive lobular cancer when first diagnosed, a relatively uncommon, accounting for 5% of all breast cancers.
-- Being at a high risk for breast cancer, according to The Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool, based on a statistical model known as the "Gail model," an interactive tool used to estimate a woman’s risk of developing invasive breast cancer over specific periods of time.
The tool is used to calculate breast cancer risk for women who have already had a diagnosis of breast cancer.
Along with mastectomy, chemotherapy and hormones can help reduce a woman’s risk of cancer recurrence, says Eric Winer, a breast cancer specialist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
A preventive mastectomy can offer peace of mind to some women, but Winer notes, no studies have shown the surgery saves lives.
Another recent study found women seeking post-breast cancer reconstructive surgery may not be made fully aware of options available to them.
Breast reconstruction surgery is performed to rebuild the breast’s shape following a mastectomy. A reconstructed breast cannot give a woman her breast back; she will not have natural sensations. However, the surgery offers a result that looks like a breast.
The National Cancer Institute estimates 1.3 million new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in the U.S. each year, of them, 465,000 women will die of the disease. #