Doctors removing healthy breasts unnecessarily

Thursday, November 29, 2012 by: Sherry Baker, Health Sciences Editor
Tags: breast cancer, mastectomies, false positives

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(NaturalNews) You've probably heard the news about several celebrities who've gone public with their decision to have their non-cancerous breasts removed and replaced with breast implants so they never have to worry about breast cancer. This must be because there is a strong likelihood these women will suffer from breast cancer if they don't have mastectomies, right? Wrong.

At least, that's the news from University of Michigan (U-M) Comprehensive Cancer Center researchers. Their just released study makes a strong argument that a startling number of these breast removal surgeries, performed to supposedly prevent breast cancer, shouldn't be done at all.

In fact, the researchers found about 70 percent of women who have both breasts removed (technically called prophylactic mastectomy) following a breast cancer diagnosis in only one breast do so despite an extremely low risk of cancer developing in their healthy breasts. The study, which will be presented November 30th at the American Society of Clinical Oncology's Quality Care Symposium, points out that a diagnosis of breast cancer in one breast does not increase the likelihood of breast cancer recurring in the other breast for the vast majority of women.

However, the research team found that 90 percent of women who had surgery to remove both breasts claimed they were doing so because they were worried about a recurrence. "Women appear to be using worry over cancer recurrence to choose contralateral prophylactic mastectomy. This does not make sense, because having a non-affected breast removed will not reduce the risk of recurrence in the affected breast," researcher Sarah Hawley, Ph.D., associate professor of internal medicine at the U-M Medical School, said in a media statement. "But this procedure is still done and it's done in women who don't need to have it done."

The new study points out that recent data has shown more and more women are having this super aggressive surgery which clearly amounts to over treatment. The researchers also note that this is not simply a cosmetic surgery procedure. A double mastectomy is a major operation that is associated with more complications and often a difficult recovery.

It is true that some women with a family history of two or more immediate family members (mother, sister, daughter) who have had breast or ovarian cancer and/or who test positive for mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes may be advised to consider having both breasts removed because they are at high risk of a new cancer developing in both breasts. But these women are the exception.

"For women who do not have a strong family history or a genetic finding, we would argue it's probably not appropriate to get the unaffected breast removed," Hawley, who is also a research investigator at the Ann Arbor VA Center of Excellence in Clinical Care Management Research and a member of the U-M Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation, emphasized.


About the author:
Sherry Baker is a widely published writer whose work has appeared in Newsweek, Health, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Yoga Journal, Optometry, Atlanta, Arthritis Today, Natural Healing Newsletter, OMNI, UCLA''''s "Healthy Years" newsletter, Mount Sinai School of Medicine''''s "Focus on Health Aging" newsletter, the Cleveland Clinic''''s "Men''''s Health Advisor" newsletter and many others.

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