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More Women With Cancer In One Breast Are Opting For Double Mastectomies

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The chances that American women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer will opt for a double mastectomy varies according to which state they live in, a new study shows, but the numbers have climbed overall.

For example, from 2010 to 2012, among women ages 20 to 44 who had cancer in one breast, some 15% had both their breasts removed in the District of Columbia, while 49% did the same in South Dakota, Reuters reports.

Ahmedin Jemal of the American Cancer Society in Atlanta, senior author on the study, said,

The variation is very striking.

Medical experts say that when women have cancer in one breast, undergoing a double mastectomy is usually not helpful. In 2016, the American Society of Breast Surgeons released a statement telling women with one-sided or unilateral breast cancer that if they don’t have a genetic risk for the disease, they should not seek to remove both breasts.

Jemal and his research team stated that according to data from past studies, there has been an increase in women who choose to have a double mastectomy when only one breast is affected.

For women who only have cancer in one breast and are at average risk, “taking off the other breast doesn’t significantly reduce the risk of a cancer on the other side, because their risk wasn’t that high to begin with,” said Dr. Laurie Kirstein, a breast surgical oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. Kirstein was not involved in the study.

Jemal’s team analyzed data collected from 2004 to 2012 from over 1.2 million women with early-stage cancer in one breast. The trend shows that double mastectomies increased from 11% to 33% for women ages 20 to 44. In the same time period, the number of women over the age of 45 who had both breasts removed went from 4% to 10%.

The states with the highest rates of double mastectomies were: South Dakota, Iowa, Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska, Tennessee, Maine and Montana, with over 40% of women in the 20-44 age range getting double mastectomies. In New Hampshire, Delaware, New Jersey, Louisiana, Idaho, Alaska, South Carolina, Nevada, Massachusetts, Wyoming, Hawaii and the District of Columbia, the same was true for less than 25% of women.

Jemal said that while the study doesn’t have an explanation for why there has been such a sharp rise in the number of procedures, the USA has the highest rate compared to other countries.

The study was published in JAMA Surgery.

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