LOS ANGELES — If you've been diagnosed with breast cancer, the last thing you want is for it to come back. That sentiment goes a long way toward explaining why as many as 25 percent of women with breast cancer — especially young women — have been opting to have healthy breasts removed.
In an effort to dig deeper into patients' decision-making process, researchers developed a lengthy survey.
Responses from 123 women were included in the report, which was published Tuesday in Annals of Internal Medicine.
Their responses seem to tell a good-news story: 97 percent of them said they knew the risks and benefits of all of their options; 93 percent said they were sure that removing their healthy breast was the right decision for them.
Why did they take such drastic action? The desire to essentially eliminate any risk of cancer developing in the other breast was cited an “extremely important” or “very important” reason by 98 percent; 95 percent said removing both breasts would give them peace of mind; 94 percent believed that it would increase their odds of beating breast cancer and contribute to a longer life; 90 percent of the women said that if they could do it all again, they would still get the surgery.
So what's the problem? The researchers suspect that at least some of these women decided to remove their healthy breasts under false pretenses. For instance, women who didn't have any mutations in the genes that would put them at higher risk of developing breast cancer estimated that they had a 10 percent chance of finding a new tumor in their healthy breast over the next five years; the actual risk is only 2 percent to 4 percent, according to the study.
Similarly, the women did not seem to fully grasp that they could keep their healthy breast and have the same long-term odds of surviving breast cancer.