Removing both breasts to treat cancer affecting only one side doesn't boost survival chances for most women, compared with surgery that removes just the tumor, a large study suggests. The results raise concerns about riskier, potentially unnecessary operations that increasing numbers of women are choosing.
The study involved nearly 200,000 California women treated for cancer in one breast and followed for several years afterward. Ten-year survival rates were nearly identical — roughly 82 percent — for women who had lumpectomies to remove the tumor plus radiation, and for those who had double mastectomies. Women who had a single mastectomy fared slightly worse.
The results confirm what many doctors have suspected, said Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society. "There's no guarantee that by having the second breast removed that you will do better," said Lichtenfeld, who had no role in the research.
In the study, about half of the women had lumpectomy treatment. The number who had double mastectomies rose substantially to 12 percent between 1998 and 2011. The trend was most notable in women under 40, going from 4 percent to 33 percent.
Other research suggests that removing both breasts to treat one-sided cancer may improve survival chances for the relatively small number of women who have genetic breast cancer or strong family histories of the disease, said study co-author Scarlett Gomez, a researcher with the Cancer Prevention Institute of California. Most breast cancer patients have neither of those risks.
The study was published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.