Please Don’t Needlessly Lose Your Breasts to Mastectomy

Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net and marin
Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net and marin

While I was doing my research for yesterday’s article, I came across an article concerning needless mastectomy, a matter of which I was blissfully unaware.  Today I’m sharing that with you because you need to know.

Women are often enduring mastectomies for no good reason.

I’m not saying it’s always the case, but by the time you’ve finished this article, hopefully you’ll know the best reasons for having a mastectomy and when you should go after a second opinion.

Back on October 27th, Nicholas Regush of ABC News wrote “While we hear news almost daily of the need for women to have mammograms and to inspect their breasts for changes that could suggest breast cancer, the actual treatment for breast cancer that many women receive, especially poor ones, is often outrageously out-of-date, if not bordering on the criminal.”  Here’s a link to the full article.

The article goes on to state, “In Texas, for example, a study of breast cancer treatment at one large urban hospital revealed that 84 percent of the women with early stage breast cancer had mastectomies and only 16 percent had lumpectomies. The women who lost their breasts were mostly poor.”

Mr Regush referenced an article written by Diana Zuckerman, President of the Washington, DC-based National Research Center for Women and Families.  The article was published in the Journal of the American Medical Women’s Association.  Despite much digging, I wasn’t able to get hold of a copy of that article, but I did discover that Ms Zuckerman has been extremely proactive with the Breast Cancer Public Education Campaign.

Because many women diagnosed with breast cancer do not have all the facts they need to get the treatment that is best for them, the National Research Center has been working to raise awareness of this issue.

Unnecessary Mastectomies

What I discovered from some of the online articles I read was that if a doctor was trained before 1981, his patient is much more likely to have a mastectomy. Apparently, old medical habits are hard to break.

Research is clear that lumpectomies are as safe as a mastectomy for most women with early stage disease.

Back in my grandmother’s day, nearly every woman who was diagnosed with breast cancer underwent mastectomy, often while under anesthesia for the biopsy itself with no participation in a discussion about treatment options.  How fortunate we are that this is no longer the case.

However, tens of thousands of women with breast cancer are losing a breast (sometimes both) unnecessarily each year.  Many women are getting their breasts removed for no good reason — meaning that such decisions are often not based on sound medical judgment but more on the basis of other factors such as her income (it’s cheaper to perform a mastectomy than lumpectomy followed by expensive radiation treatments), the training of her doctor, the age of her doctor, and where she lives.  Sometimes it’s based purely on fear of the return of the disease.

There is absolutely no data that mastectomy (either single or bilateral) in a breast cancer patient improved survival rates or helped them live longer.  It appears that many women are doing this in panic mode.

Mastectomy vs Lumpectomy

Presuming you have already found a breast lump and your doctor has told you it’s malignant, you will need to make the decision between a mastectomy and lumpectomy.

There’s a helpful article in www.breastcancer.org titled Mastectomy vs Lumpectomy.  Please read the article, it references the deciding factors, advantages and disadvantages, and there’s no need for me to reiterate it here.

When Mastectomy Makes Sense

  • If the tumor is big and, after the lumpectomy, very little breast tissue would remain
  • If there are multiple tumors in more than one quadrant of the breast
  • If you do not want to undergo radiation therapy after the surgery (and you don’t have to – I chose against radiation after my lumpectomy but I was very proactive in my health care and chose something else)
  • If you believe you will have less anxiety about a recurrence of breast cancer with a mastectomy

There is an alarming trend of more and more women removing healthy breasts because they are panicked or in fear of breast cancer returning or migrating to the other breast.  In some cases, doctors recommend prophylactic mastectomy, which is surgery that is performed to reduce your breast cancer risk.  That is a whole, huge topic unto itself and the subject of my next article.

While I can’t tell you what to do, I do want you to be aware that YOU HAVE CHOICES.  Please don’t choose mastectomy purely out of fear.  Sign up for my newsletters (the bright colored box on the right) and let me help you through this process.  I will share with you what I did, help you with your anxiety and walk with you through this journey.

Remember, the greatest enemy cancer has is a great functioning immune system.

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