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More Women With Breast Cancer Get Nipple-Sparing Surgery

Study Shows Nipple-Sparing Mastectomies Are Just as Safe as Conventional Surgery
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Oct. 27, 2011 -- More women facing mastectomies are opting for surgeries that remove the breast tissue but not the skin, nipple, and areola.

Concerns that a procedure called nipple-sparing mastectomy could raise the risk of a return of cancer have kept the surgery from being widely adopted in the past. That is changing as more surgical centers offer the procedure.

Supporters say that in the right patients nipple-sparing mastectomies can be just as safe and successful as more conventional breast removal.

Now a new study from Georgetown University Medical Center appears to support the claim.

Checking for Return of Cancer

The analysis included data on 101 women who had the surgery at Georgetown University Medical Center between 1989 and 2010 to prevent or treat breast cancer.

Researchers reviewed results for all women receiving the surgery at the center over two decades. They found no evidence of the return of cancer in or near the nipple in close to 50 women with breast cancer over an average of 2 1/2 years of follow-up.

Georgetown chief of plastic surgery Scott L. Spear, MD, who led the research, says other small studies examining nipple-sparing surgery in breast cancer patients have shown the same thing.

But he adds that larger studies with longer follow-up times will be needed.

"I believe this procedure is safe for women with breast cancer and I believe the data will eventually prove that it is safe," he says. "But I would like to see larger, more robust studies."

Spear tells WebMD that he has been performing the surgery for more than a decade, mostly in women at high risk for breast cancer who are having mastectomies to keep from getting cancer.

He says it has only been in the last few years that nipple-sparing surgery has been considered an option for women with breast cancer.

"I spoke last year at a convention to a room with about 400 breast surgeons and I asked how many of them were doing nipple-sparing mastectomies," he says. "Virtually all of them raised their hands. If I had asked the question five years ago, maybe 2% would have been doing them."

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