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Saving the Breast From Cancer: Only for the Rich?

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What's more, she says, these women may not know that under certain circumstances, "lumpectomy does not lessen the odds of long-term survival." In this study, when women were given a choice of treatment, 31% decided on mastectomy, and 33% opted for lumpectomy, "although breast conservation is often better in the long term for the patient's feelings about herself as a woman," says Baron. "These women need to know ... that choosing lumpectomy will not affect their life expectancy."

Whether the disparity is a matter of transportation and other logistical details, insufficient information, or a combination, Baron tells WebMD that education is key. "We need to pay very special attention when it comes to teaching low-income and less-educated women about the benefits of breast conservation treatment," she says.

The fact that everyone who participated in this study is a survivor "should empower women to take charge of their health," says Baron. In addition to doing monthly self exams and getting regular mammograms, she says, "if you've been diagnosed with breast cancer and you're scared, if things like transportation or child care or job concerns are keeping you from getting treatment -- you need to communicate that to your health care provider."

Vital Information:

  • Among breast cancer patients, women who are poor and have limited education are more likely to have their breast removed. Their wealthier peers more often opt for treatment that will leave their breast intact, according to a new study.
  • The researchers suggest the lower-income group of women may go the mastectomy route because it is quicker, and these women cannot take time away from work and find child care in order to get six weeks of daily treatment after a lumpectomy.
  • The researchers add that when breast cancer patients talk with their doctors about treatment options, the women should discuss concerns about job flexibility and child care. Also, patients should know that in cases where a lumpectomy is appropriate, the chances of survival are not lower than with mastectomy.
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