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Breast Cancer Health Center

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Double Mastectomy Often Not Needed, Study Finds

Most women who have both breasts removed have low risk of opposite-breast cancer, researchers say


The author of an editorial accompanying the study said some fear is healthy. "It's a reasonable thing to be fearful of recurrence," said Dr. Ann Partridge, a breast oncologist and director of the adult survivorship program at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

"What you hope is that fear motivates them to comply with treatment," she said. "What you hope the fear doesn't do is cripple them."

She advises women to put the risk in perspective, which is not always easy. "The average risk of a new primary cancer in the opposite breast is about 2.5 percent over five years," she said. That risk can be halved with use of hormonal drugs, she added.

For women with risky genetic mutations, the likelihood of a new primary cancer in the opposite breast is 20 percent over the next five years, she said.

Making the decision is difficult, regardless of risk, Partridge said. "It's so stressful," she said. "There are many women who are making this decision in the throes of a diagnosis."

Talk over the risks and benefits with your doctors, she advises. If you're still unsure, she recommends taking the process step by step.

"Let the dust settle," she said. "Get the breast treated you need to get treated. You can always go back."

Health care professionals should take their patients' fears into account, Partridge believes. "We need to be aware of that anxiety, help women deal with it," she said. Treatment decisions should be driven by shared decision-making between a woman and her doctors, not by anxiety, she added.

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