The fear of breast cancer is so strong for some women at risk for the disease that they choose to have their breasts removed to protect themselves.
But how often? A new study based on data from New York finds the surgical removal of both breasts in the absence of a cancer diagnosis is rare. But more women are having mastectomies of the noncancerous breast after surgery to remove the cancerous one, despite questions about the benefits of the approach.
Drawing on 11 years of data in New York, researchers from Roswell Park Cancer Institute and the state health department identified 6,275 women who had prophylactic mastectomies. Some 81 percent of them had a cancer diagnosis in one breast, while the rest had no personal history of breast cancer.
Over time, the number of double mastectomies among women without cancer held pretty steady, constituting 1.7 percent of non-cosmetic mastectomies in the state during the study period.
Mastectomies of the unaffected breast in women diagnosed with cancer increased quite a bit, however, despite, as the study authors put it, its benefit in reducing cancer deaths not being "well established."
Stephen Edge, a surgeon at Roswell Park and senior author of the paper, told the Los Angeles Times blog Booster Shots, "It really increased dramatically. We are not making a value judgment that it is good or bad. But it's an important trend."
The findings were published online by the journal Cancer.