Bilateral Mastectomies on Rise among Women without Breast Cancer

A government study has revealed that in 2005, two out of 100,000 women without breast cancer opted for bilateral mastectomies, while the number in 2013 increased by more than double to 4.4. During the same period, the total number of mastectomies rose by 36%. The number of surgeries increased from 66 to 99 per 100,000 women, while the number of double mastectomies increased by three-fold to 29.7 from 9.1 per 100,000 women.

In addition, the age of the women undergoing bilateral mastectomies in 2013 was 10 years lower than those undergoing unilateral mastectomy.

The pattern of mastectomies has been attributed to various aspects. Double mastectomies are prevalent among women with the BRCA gene mutation and women with breast cancer due to cosmetic purposes or due to the fear of developing cancer in the other breast as well. According to the National Cancer Institute, preventative mastectomy might be thought of as an option for women suffering from genetic mutations and familial breast cancer, but women with no risk factors are not required to undergo any such surgery.

Claudia Steiner, co-author of the study and a Senior Research Physician at AHRQ, was amazed with the accelerated rise in the number of mastectomies, while several others advocated undergoing less invasive measures like lumpectomies. “The vast majority of women with breast cancer do have a choice. We’ve known this for several years that the rate of mastectomy has been going up,” said Dr. Michael Cowher, a Breast Surgeon at Allegheny General Hospital.

Dr. Cowher added that the fear of cancer reoccurring was the primary reason given by women for opting mastectomy. The survival rate in lumpectomy and mastectomy is similar, while the recurrence rate varies. Dr. Cowher stated that recurrence rate in mastectomy is 1-2%, while in the case of lumpectomy, it’s 8-10%.

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