Epidemic of Aggressive Care vis-a-vis Breast Cancer

In many areas of medicine, the need for increased certainty of cure and diagnostic certainty leads to other problems; sometimes, “the perfect is the enemy of the good.” While this happens in pediatric gastroenterology, the frequency is probably greatest in oncology.  A recent terrific article in the NY Times by Peggy Orenstein highlights an epidemic of contralateral prophylactic mastectomy (CPM) in the care of patients with breast cancer.

Here are a couple of points and the link –Wrong Approach to Breast Cancer:

  • According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology in 2009, among those with ductal carcinoma in situ — a non-life-threatening, “stage 0” cancer — the rates of mastectomy with C.P.M. jumped 188 percent between 1998 and 2005. Among those with early-stage invasive disease, the rates went up 150 percent between 1998 and 2003. Most of these women did not carry a genetic mutation, like the actress Angelina Jolie, that predisposes them to the disease.
  • Overestimation of their actual chances of contracting a second cancer. In a 2013 study conducted by the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, for instance, women under 40 with no increased genetic risk and disease in one breast believed that within five years, 10 out of 100 of them would develop it in the other; the actual risk is about 2 to 4 percent.
  • Underestimated the potential complications and side effects of C.P.M. Breasts don’t just screw off, like jar lids: Infections can occur, implants can break through the skin or rupture, tissue relocated from elsewhere in the body can fail. Even if all goes well, a reconstructed breast has little sensation. Mine looks swell, and is a remarkably close match to its natural counterpart, but from the inside it feels pretty much like a glued-on tennis ball.
  • The most comprehensive study yet, published earlier this month in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, showed virtually no survival benefit from the procedure — less than 1 percent over 20 years.
  • How can that be? Well, first of all, it is extremely rare for a tumor on one side to spread to the other. Cancer doesn’t just leap from breast to breast.

Related blog post:

Facts, “Misfearing” and Women’s Health | gutsandgrowth

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