Monday, September 28, 2009

Behind the (1 in ) eight ball: More breast cancer patients choosing prophylactic mastectomy

The AP wire is reporting that the number of women opting for surgery to remove the healthy breast after a cancer diagnosis in one breast is rising, despite a lack of evidence that the surgery can improve survival. Sometimes this is presented as controversial, but I think this represents rationale behavior by many women choosing this.

There's the powerful slogan that's penetrated popular culture that women have a "1 in 8" risk of breast cancer. That's kind of correct but oversimplifies things. Biology is destiny with breast cancer and appears to overwhelm anything in your diet or the environment in terms of producing breast cancer. Like most cancers, risk of breast cancer increases as you get older. Taking all comers in the United States, a woman's chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer is about 1 in 233 when she's in her 30s which steadly rises to 1 in 8 by the time she's reached 85. However, there are women in that group who are at substancially more or substancially less risk.

Younger patients in particular would seem to benefit the most from prophylactic removal of the breast due to this increasing bias for later tumor development. The survival benefit for this surgery hasn't really been studied (as far as I can tell) in your breast cancer patients out for decades. It's assumed that you'd likely see a significant difference in that groups risk of breast cancer in the post menopausal group. Widely referenced studies (see here) suggest that after prophylactic mastectomy a woman's risk for later developing breast cancer is reduced by an average of 90% (some even suggest closer to 100%).

It's clear to me which way I'd suggest for all but the most favorable tumors in young women. Is it for you?



Kimberli said...
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Kimberli said...

Interestingly Rob, ASBS has discussed this recently. It was thought that the increase was surgeon driven; in fact it is quite the opposite.

In my own practice I clearly see an increased interest in bilateral procedures, with contralateral prophlactic mastectomy, and especially with younger women. I think it a reasonable choice and encourage women to do so, if they are a good surgical candidate and understand the risks and benefits.