Saturday, February 2, 2013

Double Mastectomies Are On the Rise

Many women who are diagnosed with breast cancer in one breast are opting to have the other breast removed as well.  The surgery is called contralateral prophylactic mastectomy, or CPM.  According to a recent report, four years after a diagnosis of breast cancer 30% of women were considering undergoing CPM, and 7% had already done so.

Is CPM justified in most cases of unilateral breast cancer, or are women’s fears and anxieties leading to over-treatment?   Apparently, most of the women who opted for removal of their contralateral breast after a diagnosis of breast cancer had not undergone any genetic testing or counseling and were not actually at increased risk for cancer of the contralateral breast.

Why are women opting for CPM when it may not be medically necessary?   One reason is that women who have had breast cancer tend to substantially overestimate their risk of developing cancer in the contralateral breast, according to researchers at the University of Minnesota.  These findings suggest that more counseling is needed, so at least women who opt for CPM do so with correct information.

No one knows whether accurate information regarding breast cancer risk would lower the rate of voluntary CPM among women diagnosed with breast cancer in one breast.  After all, who can estimate the value of peace of mind?   In the end, it has to be the woman’s choice.

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