A huge new development has affected women with breast cancer, and it could lead to a dramatic change in how it is treated in the future: they’re getting double mastectomies, even when the cancer is found in only one breast. Angelina Jolie’s decision to get a double mastectomy due to having a gene that makes her highly susceptible to cancer may have fueled the rise in such procedures, or it may simply be symptomatic of a proactive approach many Americans are taking to one of the biggest killers of women.
Dr. Deborah Axelrod, who is a breast surgeon at the NYU Perlmutter Cancer Center in New York, said according to a CNN report that the numbers are “staggering” in terms of the rise of women opting to receive double mastectomies with a CPM in recent years. A total of 42% of women ages 20 to 44 who got surgery between 2010 and 2012 opted to get both breasts removed via CPM, which is nowhere near the level it was between 2004 and 2006, according to the report, in which Axelrod noted that the figures in her experience rose from 11 to 28 percent in that period.
Studies differ on just how big the rise is, but one published in the journal Annals of Surgery found that CPM more than tripled in the United States over a 10-year period between 2002 and 2012, even though there wasn’t that much evidence that this procedure has a lot of benefit.
“That 1 in 6 breast cancer patients chose bilateral mastectomy is really striking. We knew it was increasing, but I don’t think many of us realized just how frequent this is,” says study author Reshma Jagsi, M.D., D.Phil., professor and deputy chair of radiation oncology at the University of Michigan.
“At a time when emotions are running high, it’s not surprising that newly diagnosed breast cancer patients might find it difficult to absorb this complex information. It seems logical that more aggressive surgery should be better at fighting disease–but that’s not how breast cancer works. It’s a real communication challenge,” Jagsi says. “As physicians, we want to be respectful of our patients’ preferences and values. We don’t want to alienate patients who are already in a stressful situation. We want them to trust us.”