Prophylactic Double Mastectomies Not All They’re Cracked Up to Be

As Hollywood superstars diagnosed with breast cancer make the choice to undergo double mastectomies just to be on the safe side, the incident rate of this type of prophylactic surgery is rising. Researchers, however, say choosing this path is not always worth the risks based on the slight likelihood of rewards.

Contralateral prophylactic mastectomies, or double mastectomies, are performed when one breast is diseased and the other is not. While this preventative measure is sometimes recommended due to high risk that cancer will, in fact, return in the second breast, it is often overused, researchers say. When genetic markers and other indicators of risk are not present, women who choose to undergo prophylactic mastectomies may open themselves up to a greater potential for complications.

A recent study took a look at risk factors associated with prophylactic double mastectomies followed by reconstruction surgery. The multicenter study focused on more than 500 women who underwent unilateral mastectomies to address the diseased breast and about 600 who had double mastectomies. As it turned out, women who underwent the more extensive surgery were more likely to experience complications, including major complications than their unilateral counterparts.  Researchers did note, however, that women who underwent double mastectomies followed by reconstruction were more likely to be satisfied with their breasts a year out from treatment.

The American Cancer Society estimates more than 250,000 women across the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer in the coming year. While some women will find that double mastectomies are strongly recommended in their cases due to genetic testing results and risk factors, others will not. If this procedure is considered prophylactic, researchers urge women to carefully consider the potential benefits versus the risks. Generally, it is advised to take the least invasive approach possible that will improve the likelihood of a positive outcome.

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