More women with early-stage breast cancer are opting to have a mastectomy. It is beginning to replace breast-conserving surgery, in which only the tumor and surrounding breast tissue are cut. Studies have documented an increase in mastectomy rates in the U.S., according to Julie Gralow, MD. Gralow is the chairwoman of the cancer communications committee of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) and associate professor of medicine at the University of Washington in Seattle.There is also a rise in the decision of women who undergo a mastectomy for cancer in one breast choosing to have their other, healthy breast removed as a preventive measure.
Why the rise in mastectomies? Here is some of the common thought contributing to the rise:
1) MRI’s. Pre-surgery MRIs can spot tiny lesions throughout the breast that couldn’t be seen on earlier tests. Though some may believe this to be premature as the lesions could very well be benign, others feel as if the lesions create a higher propensity to develop a more invasive cancer.
2) Reconstruction. New surgical techniques that reconstruct the breast have been well-received with great outcomes. As a close friend once said, “I can get new ones…better ones…healthier ones.” You may feel as if that statement minimizes the issue, but it helped my friend face the decision of loosing her breasts easier.
3) Radiation Avoidance. Women may wish to avoid radiation therapy, which is an integral part of breast-conserving treatment. The early effects of radiation may be seen a few days or weeks after treatments have started and may continue for several weeks after treatments have ended. Other effects may not show up until months, or even years, later.
4) Survival Rate Comfort Level. While the chance of survival is the same after both procedures, mastectomy is associated with a lower risk of developing a new cancer in the affected breast. Many people have a preference for mastectomy as a way to get rid of all the cancer as quickly as possible.
According to the National Cancer Institute, “It is important for a woman who is considering preventive mastectomy to talk with a doctor about her risk of developing breast cancer (with or without a mastectomy), the surgical procedure, and potential complications. All women are different, so preventive mastectomy should be considered in the context of each woman’s unique risk factors and her level of concern.”
I can only speak to my personal choices, and what best fits my situation. What would you consider if faced with choices in relation to an early breast cancer diagnosis ? For some people the choice option is a luxury as mastectomy is the right and obvious decision. It is also easy for someone to say what they might do when a hypothetical question is thrown their way. For those who are facing surgical decisions- what are you thinking? What are you doing as you face your treatment options?