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Breast Cancer Health Center

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Women Weigh in on Breast-Conserving Surgery

Patients Surveyed Less Likely Than Doctors to Report Excellent Results After Breast Conservation Surgery
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Nov. 3, 2010 (San Diego) -- Fewer women are satisfied with the appearance of their breast after undergoing breast conservation surgery and radiation than previously reported by doctors.

That's the main finding of an anonymous Internet-based survey of more than 1,000 patients.

"The surveyed women also reported higher rates of lingering pain and swelling than expected," says researcher Christine Hill-Kayser, MD, assistant professor of radiation oncology at the Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

Over the past two years, 1,046 women filled out the Web questionnaire that can be accessed by anyone, she says. About half had undergone breast conservation surgery and radiation.

Among the findings:

  • 16% rated the appearance of their treated breast as "excellent, identical to the other breast."
  • 52% said it was "good, with minimal differences from the other breast."
  • 30% said "fair, with obvious differences from the other breast."
  • 2% said the appearance of the treated breast was "poor."

Doctors Cite Good or Excellent Results in Most Cases

"There was no difference between these answers and those of surveyed women who underwent mastectomy and reconstructive breast surgery," Hill-Kayser says.

In contrast to these results, doctors rated more than 90% of their patients treated with breast-conserving surgery as having "excellent" or "good" cosmetic results in a recent study, she says.

Hill-Kayser tells WebMD that she thinks doctors are more likely to feel they have eradicated the cancer and preserved the breast and that is an “excellent” outcome.

"Women queried may have higher expectations because they are talking about their own body and body image," she says.

Hill-Kayser was surprised that the cosmetic ratings were basically identical among women who underwent breast conservation surgery and radiation compared with women who had a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery.

"As surgical techniques have improved, reconstruction results have become excellent," she said. "Mastectomy isn't the debilitating surgery it used to be."

Hill-Kayser spoke here at the annual meeting of the American Society for Radiation Oncology.

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