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Women opting for breast removal surgery they don’t need

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Women diagnosed with breast cancer are choosing to have a double mastectomy (removal of both breasts) even though it doesn’t increase their chances of survival. In fact, up to 70 per cent of double mastectomies may be unnecessary, a new study has found.

The women are being offered a double mastectomy even though they have none of the usual genetic risk factors, such as BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations. The procedure itself is traumatic and disfiguring, and worst of all, unnecessary, say researchers from the University of Michigan.

As they point out, there is no evidence to suggest that a tumour in one breast is probably going to spread to the other; the more likely possibility is that it will recur in the same breast.

But the practice has become prevalent, as the researchers discovered when they analysed the records of 1,447 diagnosed with breast cancer, although none had a genetic family history that suggested the cancer might spread. Despite this, nearly 19 per cent of the women ‘strongly’ considered having a double mastectomy, and a third of these-and 7.6 per cent of the whole group-actually had the procedure.

(Source: JAMA Surgery; 2014: doi: 10.1001/jamasurg.2013.5689)

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