Steps young women take to prevent breast cancer

Steps young women take to prevent breast cancer

Researchers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute recently conducted a survey to find out why numbers are on the rise for women undergoing a procedure to remove both breasts, even though one is not cancerous. This surgery is called contralateral prophylactic mastectomy (CPM).

The survey particularly looked at younger women, age 40 and under, diagnosed with breast cancer to find out how much they know about their risk of developing cancer in their healthy breast after surgery.

They found that those who decided to have the cancer-free breast removed actually overestimate the odds that cancer will happen again, even though they know that removing the healthy breast may not influence their chance of survival.

“This study is important, especially to physicians who discuss breast cancer treatment options with patients,” says Dr. Heidi Memmel, breast surgeon with Advocate Medical Group in Park Ridge, Ill. “It emphasizes how important it is to clarify a women’s risk of another breast cancer, and that in most cases, that risk is quite low.”

Published in a recent issue of the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, the study reports that women are mostly motivated to remove the healthy breast in order to decrease their risk for developing cancer in the other breast. Although many who are genetically more prone to breast cancer did say they already knew that this may not increase their chance of survival.

Researchers believe that most women don’t know that having a CPM actually has minimal impact on survival rates.

Women without a family history of breast cancer said that they believed that for every 100 women, ten would develop breast cancer again in the other breast. While in reality, researchers say the chance is about two to four percent within five years of their first diagnosis.

Women that do carry the breast cancer gene, BRCA1 or BRCA2, were more knowledgeable about their potential for future diagnosis.

“An increasing percentage of women treated for early-stage breast cancer are choosing to have CPM,” said Shoshana Rosenberg, lead author of the study in a statement. “The trend is particularly notable among younger women.”

Rosenberg believes that communication to these women should be clear on the risks and benefits, but also to provide support so they can make an informed decision.

The authors added that “most women acknowledge that CPM does not improve survival, but anxiety and fear of recurrence probably influence them during the decision-making process.”

“When patients ask me about a mastectomy for the unaffected breast, I ask them why they are considering a double mastectomy,” Dr. Memmel says. “Most have a fear of the cancer traveling to the other breast, which generally does not happen, or a fear of having to go through surgery, chemotherapy and treatment again.”

She adds that even after these discussions, many young women still opt to undergo a double mastectomy purely for peace of mind and a feeling that they’ve done everything in their power to avoid another breast cancer.

“Reconstructive options have improved so dramatically in the past few years, that women see the cosmetic results of a mastectomy, and are more open to considering a mastectomy compared with women years ago,” she says.

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  1. Great information on how young women can prevent breast cancer.

  2. I’m glad there is less stigma about having a mastectomy– the reconstructive options out there now make it so that you can hardly tell the difference, and you can have peace of mind. I’m also thrilled that you can now schedule a no-referral, same-day mammogram with Advocate and receive next-day results!

  3. I think the title is misleading. Just because you lop off both of the girls does not mean the cancer wont come back somewhere else. There is no such thing as cancer prevention.

    • Anon, even with total mastectomy, not all breast tissue that may be at risk of becoming cancerous in the future can be removed. The chest wall, which is not typically removed during a mastectomy, may contain some breast tissue, and breast tissue can sometimes be found in the armpit, above the collarbone, and as far down as the abdomen—and it is impossible for a surgeon to remove all of this tissue. But bilateral prophylactic mastectomy has been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer by at least 95% in women who have a deleterious (disease-causing) mutation in the BRCA1 gene or the BRCA2 gene and by up to 90% in women who have a strong family history of breast cancer.

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About the Author

Sarah Scroggins
Sarah Scroggins

Sarah Scroggins, health enews contributor, is the director of social media at Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. She has a BA and MA in Communications. When not on social media, she loves reading a good book (or audiobook), watching the latest Netflix series and teaching a college night class.