Does Surgery on Healthy Breasts Help?
October 04, 2010
Many women with breast cancer today opt for breast cancer surgery, encouraging doctors to not only remove the cancerous breast, but their healthy breast too.
According to an article in The New York Times, in 2006, approximately 6 percent of women who underwent breast cancer surgery chose the procedure. Some women don’t even wait for a cancer diagnosis, but opt for the surgery when told they are at greater genetic risk to develop breast cancer.
But do such preventative measures actually work? The NYT reported that in a study by the The Journal of the National Cancer Institute, “… for most women, having a healthy breast removed after a cancer diagnosis had no effect on long-term survival.”
The data are confusing, because a diagnosis of breast cancer or ductal carcinoma in situ does carry a slightly higher risk (about 0.6 to 1 percent a year) of developing a new, unrelated cancer in the second breast — although many women wrongly believe this means their cancer has “spread” to the other breast. And because of more vigilant screening among breast cancer survivors, second breast cancers are more likely to be detected at an early, more curable stage. As a result, the higher risk for a second cancer does not mean a higher risk of dying.
Doctors say that the highest risk to a woman is not from a future cancer, but from the potential spread of the cancer she already has. Removing a second healthy breast doesn’t change those odds.
“Women say the reason they’re going to have both breasts removed is because they want to see their children graduate or watch their grandchildren grow up,” said Dr. Todd M. Tuttle, chief of surgical oncology at the Masonic Cancer Center at the University of Minnesota. “But having that other breast removed doesn’t help them at all in being able to survive another 10 or 20 years.” – The New York Times reported.