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Cancer: Removing Healthy Breast of Little Benefit

Women choosing the procedure gained just one to seven extra months of life over 20 years, researchers say
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WebMD News from HealthDay

By Kathleen Doheny

HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, July 16, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- For most women with breast cancer, there doesn't seem to be a significant survival benefit from having their healthy breast removed as well, new research suggests.

In recent years, more women with cancer in one breast have been choosing to have the other breast removed as a precaution -- known as a prophylactic or preventive mastectomy. But this new study finds that over 20 years, the survival benefit between women who've had a preventive mastectomy and those who kept their healthy breast was less than 1 percent.

"We found fairly convincing evidence that there really is no meaningful long-term survival benefit for the vast majority of women with breast cancer by having their opposite breast removed," said study researcher Dr. Todd Tuttle. He is chief of surgical oncology at the University of Minnesota School of Medicine.

"Most patients have very minimal increases in life expectancy, one to seven months," Tuttle said. And that difference was spread over two or more decades, especially in the younger women, he said.

Younger women with stage I, estrogen receptor-negative breast cancer (the type not fueled by estrogen) had the greatest survival benefits from the procedure. But, the survival difference between those who had the surgery and those who didn't was still less than 1 percent over 20 years, according to the study.

It's important to note that none of the women in this study had the so-called breast cancer genes known as BRCA-1 and BRCA-2. These genes significantly increase a woman's risk of breast and ovarian cancer, according to the U.S. National Cancer Institute. And, because of their increased risk, preventive surgeries to remove the breasts and the ovaries are often offered to these women.

The new study is published July 16 in JNCI: Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Tuttle's team tracked survival over 20 years for more than 100,000 women with stage I or stage II breast cancers. The researchers then used a model to simulate survival results in women who had prophylactic mastectomy and those who did not.

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