Do Women with Breast Cancer Overestimate the Benefit of Having the Second Breast Removed?

logo1267406_mdA new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine concluded that young women with breast cancer often overestimate the odds that cancer will occur in their other healthy breast and decide to have it surgically removed. Researchers also found that many of these women choose to have the procedure done despite knowing it will unlikely improve their chances of survival. Researchers said “An increasing number of women treated for early-stage breast cancer are choosing to have CPM (contralateral prophylactic mastectomy) ….particularly notable among younger women.” The researchers say that because many women make this decision because of an unrealistic sense of the benefits of CPM and of the risks “Improving the communication of those risks and benefits–together with better management of anxiety surrounding diagnosis–and providing patients with the support  they need to make decisions based on solid evidence–are worthwhile steps.”

For the study, 123 women age 40 and younger who had undergone a bilateral mastectomy despite having cancer in only one were interviewed about their reason for having the procedure, their knowledge of its risks and benefits, and their satisfaction with the outcome.  Most women said they choose the procedure because of a desire to improve their chances of survival and to prevent the cancer from spreading, However, most understood that removing both breasts does not extend survival for women who are free of an inherited genetic predisposition to breast cancer. The researchers said “Most women acknowledge that CPM does not improve survival but anxiety and fear of recurrence probably influence them during the decision-making process.

Researchers found that women without the inherited genetic risk of breast cancer overestimated the chance that cancer would develop in both breast by 10 in 100 compared to the actual rate of  2 to 4 percent. However, women who did have the inherited predisposition to breast cancer resulting from mutation of the genes BRCA1 or BRCA2-more accurately perceived their risk of cancer in both breasts. At the same time, they tended to underestimate the severity of some side effects such as their appearance following CPM and their sense of sexuality.–.

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