Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started
My Medicine

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Breast Cancer Health Center

Font Size

Mastectomies Up for Early Breast Cancer

Women Increasingly Choose Breast Removal Over Breast-Conserving Surgery
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

May 16, 2008 -- More women with early-stage breast cancer are opting to have a mastectomy, a new study suggests.

Breast-conserving surgery, in which only the tumor and surrounding breast tissue are cut out, has been the treatment of choice for most women with early-stage disease since 1990. That's when a National Institutes of Health Consensus Panel reported that it is as effective at saving lives as the more disfiguring mastectomy, in which the entire breast is removed.

But recently, the number of mastectomies performed at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., shot up 13% in just three years.

Mastectomy accounted for 43% of early-stage breast cancer surgeries in 2006, compared with 30% in 2003, says researcher Matthew Goetz, MD, a breast cancer specialist at the Mayo Clinic.

"The mastectomy rate in 2006 was about the same we saw in the late '90s," he tells WebMD.

Other studies have also documented an increase in mastectomy rates in the U.S., says Julie Gralow, MD. She is chairwoman of the cancer communications committee of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) and associate professor of medicine at the University of Washington in Seattle.

For example, women who undergo a mastectomy for cancer in one breast are increasingly choosing to have their other, healthy breast removed as a preventive measure, Gralow tells WebMD.

The new study involved 5,464 women who had surgery for early-stage breast cancer at the Mayo Clinic between 1997 and 2006. It is scheduled to be presented here at ASCO's annual meeting.

Why Mastectomy Rates Are on the Rise

One reason why more women are choosing mastectomy, the study suggests, is the increased use of breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans before surgery. MRIs can spot tiny lesions throughout the breast that couldn't be seen on earlier tests.

The problem: Such lesions may or may not be cancerous, Gralow says. "If the MRI actually finds cancer, more aggressive surgery is appropriate. But it would be a tragedy to choose mastectomy if the MRI was just spotting tiny specks, little benign things."

Plus, the increased use of MRI couldn't account for the entire rise in mastectomy rates in the study; they also shot up among women who didn't have the scans.

Today on WebMD

Breast Cancer Overview
From self-exams and biopsies to reconstruction, we’ve got you covered.
Dealing with breast cancer
Get answers to your questions.
woman having mammogram
Experts don’t agree on all fronts, but you can be your own advocate.
woman undergoing breast cancer test
Many women worry. But the truth? Most abnormalities aren’t breast cancer.
Breast Cancer Treatments Improving
Resolved To Quit Smoking
Woman getting mammogram
Screening Tests for Women
ovarian cancer overview slideshow
serious woman
what is your cancer risk
10 Ways to Revitalize Slideshow