Fear May Drive Women to Remove Healthy Breasts

October 3, 2013 | Crandall & Pera Law
Fear May Drive Women to Remove Healthy Breasts

Young women diagnosed with cancer in one breast may be driven to remove them both due to fear, not facts, according to a new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. 

The study finds that women younger than 40 who opted for a second mastectomy of a healthy breast did so to reduce the perceived risk of another cancer, despite medical evidence that says it likely will not improve survival. Often, they simply wanted peace of mind.

Evidence shows the actual risk of getting cancer in the second breast is very low - about 2-4 percent within five years - and that the operation may improve survival in less than 10 percent of the breast cancer population. Women who have both breasts removed are also at twice the risk for wound complications including bleeding, infection and other problems, according to a July study in the Annals of Surgical Oncology.

Since the late 1990s, these contralateral prophylactic mastectomies, or CPMs, have quadrupled from about 4-6 percent of patients opting to remove a healthy breast to between 11-25 percent, according to researchers. These figures may point to potential gaps in the conversation between doctors and their patients.

"We're concerned that the risk is not being effectively communicated," said Shoshana M. Rosenberg of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Harvard School of Public Health, who led the study. "We're concerned that some of the anxiety and fears and concerns are not being adequately addressed." Read the full story here:

Unfounded fears may prompt young cancer patients to remove healthy breasts

A delay in diagnosis of cancer is always a significant fear. Unfortunately, many women are now opting to perform double mastectomy to avoid what they believe to a be high risk of breast cancer.

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