Double mastectomies are often recommended for women with the faulty genes BRCA1 or BRCA2 - like Miss Jolie - who are at very high risk of the illness. Other women with breast cancer may choose to have the procedure to minimise the chances of the illness returning as much as possible.
But a study of 189,734 women with breast cancer in California found no difference in survival rates between those who had double mastectomies and lumpectomies.After ten years 81 per cent of women in both groups were still alive, according to the findings published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Dr Allison Kurian, lead researcher from Stanford University, said: ‘We can now say that the average breast cancer patient who has bilateral (double) mastectomy will have no better survival than the average patient who has lumpectomy plus radiation.
Surgery: There have been increased requests for double mastectomies over the last decade (posed by model)
‘Furthermore, a mastectomy is a major procedure that can require significant recovery time and may entail breast reconstruction, whereas a lumpectomy is much less invasive with a shorter recovery period.’ The study also found that the numbers of American women opting to have double mastectomies had increased by an average of 14 per cent every year between 1998 and 2011.
This increase had nothing to do with Miss Jolie as it occurred before she had the procedure but researchers think women are assuming it will minimise their risk.
There are no figures for England but surgeons have noticed a similar trend.
Professor Kefah Mokbel, who is based at St George’s Hospital, South London, said in May that over the past ten years there have been increasing requests for double mastectomies and reconstruction from young women diagnosed with cancer in one breast.
He said: ‘They want to minimise the risk, but the study shows women who do not have a genetic predisposition or family history are being over-treated.’
Eluned Hughes, of the Breakthrough Breast Cancer charity, said: ‘Double mastectomies are not routinely offered to women with breast cancer in the UK unless they have a family history of the disease or a high risk of recurrence, as outside of these groups there is no evidence to suggest this would be of benefit.'
Having a double mastectomy is a difficult decision…so it’s important every woman has all the information about the risks and benefits of the surgery for them.’
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