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Double mastectomy

Removing unaffected breast in women with cancer results in little benefit, many problems

Thursday, December 08, 2011 by: S. L. Baker, features writer
Tags: double mastectomy, breast cancer, prevention

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(NaturalNews) Several celebrities have been in the news lately, because after being diagnosed with cancer in one breast, they decided to have both breasts removed. The procedure, known as contralateral prophylactic mastectomy (CPM), is offered to women as a kind of insurance. Supposedly, it will greatly reduce the odds they will not get breast cancer again.

Although the rates of this surgical procedure are soaring, the real proof of whether it is worthwhile has been lacking. However, researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania have just announced the results of research showing CPM provides little significant benefit -- but it can have significant negative effects on women.

In fact, the study shows that the surgery actually reduces the measure of life expectancy that takes into account quality of life (technically called "quality-adjusted life expectancy") among women who do not have hereditary breast cancer. About 90 percent of women with breast malignancies do not have cancers known to be caused by genetic factors. So that means the new findings apply to the vast majority of women diagnosed with breast cancer who are treated with mastectomy.

A research team headed by Robert G. Prosnitz, MD, MPH, assistant professor of Radiation Oncology in the Perelman School of Medicine, reported on their study at the CTRC-AACR (Cancer Therapy & Research Center American Association for Cancer Research) San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.

Dr. Prosnitz pointed out there has been a whopping 150 percent increase in surgical removal of healthy, non-cancerous breasts in recent years. In a media statement, the researchers said they hope their findings will assist patients and doctor to make informed decisions about treatment strategies, based on a clear understanding of the real benefits and risks involved in preventive mastectomies -- and the potential for the surgery to have a negative impact on a woman's quality of life.

Current medical enthusiasm for removing healthy breasts is a bad idea

"We suspect that many of the women who elect to undergo CPM are acting on the belief the surgery will substantially reduce their overall risk of dying of breast cancer," Dr. Prosnitz noted. "However, our study shows that a woman's risk of death from her primary breast cancer far outweighs her risk of death from a potential breast cancer developing in the unaffected breast. Additionally, the modest increase in life expectancy resulting from CPM may ultimately be negated by a reduction in quality of life."

The study showed that CPM produced modest gains in life expectancy, primarily in younger women with early-stage cancers whose type is known to carry a favorable prognosis anyway. However, even in these women, their risk of dying from their primary breast cancer far exceeded any risk of dying from a breast malignancy that might develop at some time in the future in the opposite breast. Specifically, in patients who forego CPM, the risk of death from the primary breast cancer within 20 years was 10 times higher than the risk of death from a breast cancer that might later be found on the unaffected side.

What's more, the new study revealed the negative side to CPM that is rarely discussed. The surgery appears to reduce the quality of life as the result of surgical complications, loss of sensation in the breast, and other medical problems. Bottom line: Dr. Prosnitz and his colleagues concluded that not undergoing this procedure is the preferred strategy for all patients, regardless of age, cancer stage or tumor molecular subtype..

"At the outset of the study, we already knew that CPM was not going to help women with locally advanced breast cancers," Dr. Prosnitz explained. "What surprised us, however, was how small the benefits were for women with even the most favorable breast cancers."

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