A study is reassuring if you're under 40 and diagnosed with early breast cancer and are considering lumpectomy instead of mastectomy. In younger women, breast cancer is generally harder to treat and more likely to spread or come back after treatment. So doctors tend to recommend more aggressive surgery, which means removing the whole breast (mastectomy) instead of only removing the cancer and surrounding tissue (lumpectomy).
In the study, women younger than 40 who chose lumpectomy instead of mastectomy had about the same risk of the cancer coming back in the same breast (local recurrence) as women over 40 who also chose lumpectomy. Five years after surgery, 9% of the women who choose lumpectomy had a local recurrence. By 10 years after surgery, 18% had a local recurrence. This means that among women followed for 10 years, more than 80% did not have the cancer come back.
Doctors also tend to recommend mastectomy instead of lumpectomy in younger women because there is a risk of younger women developing a new, second breast cancer in the same breast if the whole breast isn't removed. This study showed that only 7% of the younger women developed a new breast cancer in the same breast (not a recurrence of the original cancer).
While lumpectomy can be a good option for some younger women diagnosed with early breast cancer, there are two very important details of this research to keep in mind:
- The women in this study had Stage I or Stage II breast cancer. We can’t say that the findings apply to Stage III breast cancer, even though some Stage III breast cancer is considered early.
- No matter how old a woman is, this and other research has shown that lumpectomy is equally as effective as mastectomy as long as lumpectomy is followed by radiation therapy and often chemotherapy. When radiation and chemotherapy are used after the main treatment (surgery) they're called adjuvant therapy.
Regardless of your age, if you've been diagnosed with early breast cancer and are considering surgery, only you and your doctor can decide which type of surgery is best for you. Whether you choose lumpectomy or mastectomy, your doctor will probably also recommend radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Together, you can decide on a treatment plan that is right for YOU.