New Study Questions the Value of Mastectomies

A new study suggests that thousands of women are undergoing mastectomy surgery in the United Kingdom without the need to do so, while in fact the surgery is ultimately causing more harm than good in many cases.

This is particularly serious, as 4,000 women in the UK are now opting for this form of surgery on an annual basis, in the belief that it will reduce their chances of contracting breast cancer.

But a new study by Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, US, shows that the majority of women would never have developed cancer in the healthy tissue anyway.

“This surgery offers no significant survival benefit to women with a first diagnosis of breast cancer,” Dr Mehra Golshan of Brigham Women’s Hospital commented.

Not only will the surgery in many cases have a limited influence over the development of breast cancer, the research asserts that it leaves women potentially open to complications and infections.

Additionally, the possibility of psychological problems such as depression are common with this form of surgery, questioning its efficacy in treating cancer and in dealing with women’s overall well-being.

The US researchers studied more than 500,000 breast cancer patients for eight and a half years to study whether the disease returned.

And they found that although many more women are now opting to engage in mastectomies, that the chances of survival were not significantly improved by the surgery.

Senior author Dr Mehra Golshan, Chair in Surgical Oncology at Brigham Women’s Hospital, commented on the results of the surgery, outlining to women the potential risks and benefits of mastectomy operations.

“Our analysis highlights the sustained, sharp rise in popularity of CPM while contributing to the mounting evidence that this more extensive surgery offers no significant survival benefit to women with a first diagnosis of breast cancer. Patients and caregivers should weigh the expected benefits with the potential risks of CPM including prolonged recovery time, increased risk of operative complications, cost, the possible need for repeat surgery, and effects on self-image.”

Breast cancer is one of the most serious conditions in the United Kingdom, with around 35,000 women being diagnosed with the condition on a yearly basis.

“Women with unilateral breast cancer undergoing CPM continue to report a desire to extend life as one of the most important factors leading to their surgical decision. Understanding why women choose to undergo CPM may create an opportunity for health care providers to optimally counsel women about surgical options, address anxieties, discuss individual preferences and ensure peace of mind related to a patient’s surgical choice,” Dr. Golshan added.

Charity surgeries in the UK have already acknowledged that making a decision about this surgery should be considered a diligent process.

Catherine Priestley, Clinical Nurse Specialist at Breast Cancer Care, commented: “It is clear from these noteworthy findings that many women diagnosed with breast cancer worry they will develop cancer in the other breast. Some women ask about having both breasts removed for peace of mind. But for most women the risk of another cancer in the other breast is small and a double mastectomy is not usually necessary.”

The research was published in the Annals of Surgery.


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