Research About Preventive Double Mastectomies from the 2014 Breast Cancer Symposium

September 2, 2014
Amber Bauer, ASCO staff

Later this week, from September 4 to 6, oncology professionals will be coming together to discuss the latest advances in breast cancer research at the 2014 Breast Cancer Symposium in San Francisco, California. One hundred sixty research abstracts will be presented at this meeting and will provide new information about treatment approaches and other ways to enhance the care of people with breast cancer.

Two of these studies focus on preventive double mastectomies, which are surgeries to remove both breasts: the one with cancer, as well as the healthy breast. The first study looked at why women choose to have this more extensive procedure, while the other assessed the complications of a double mastectomy with reconstruction compared to a single mastectomy.

“We continue to see increasing numbers of women newly diagnosed with breast cancer who choose bilateral mastectomy despite the fact that survival rates are equivalent between those who undergo lumpectomy with radiation therapy or mastectomy,” said Julie Margenthaler, MD, Director of Breast Surgical Services of the Joanne Knight Breast Center at Siteman Cancer Center and Associate Professor of Surgery and Director of the Breast Fellowship Program at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri. Dr. Margenthaler is also the Chair of the Communications Committee for the American Society of Breast Surgeons and a member of the News Planning Team for the 2014 Breast Cancer Symposium.

In this podcast, Dr. Margenthaler shares the results of these studies and discusses what they mean for patients. 

Read a full transcript of this podcast.

Highlights from these studies include:

Survey Reveals the Factors Influencing Women’s Consideration of Preventive Double Mastectomy. A survey of 150 women who had been newly diagnosed with breast cancer found that those who decided to have surgery to remove both breasts tended to have higher levels of anxiety than women who did not consider or want the procedure. However, they also had less knowledge about the risk of breast cancer recurrence. Another interesting finding was that 39% of the women (58 out of 150) had thought about their surgery choice even before being diagnosed with breast cancer.

Breast Cancer Surgery and Reconstruction Complications Are Rare, Though Double Mastectomy Has Higher Risk of Certain Complications Than Single Mastectomy. In this study, researchers looked at the complications that occurred within 30 days after a group of more than 18,000 women had breast surgery with reconstruction. The results showed that although complications are infrequent when having either a bilateral (double) or unilateral (one-sided) mastectomy with reconstruction, women who have the bilateral surgery experience higher rates of unplanned removal of an implant, a higher chance of needing a second operation, and a greater need for blood transfusions. They also typically have a longer hospital stay.