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Removing Opposite, Healthy Breast Reduces Risk of New Cancer

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If you've been diagnosed with breast cancer, you have a higher risk of developing a new breast cancer than a woman who has never had the disease. Contralateral prophylactic mastectomy -- removing the opposite, healthy breast -- is an option that can reduce the risk of a new cancer developing.

A study found that contralateral prophylactic mastectomy:

  • Reduced the risk of developing a new breast cancer in the other (contralateral) breast by 80%. About 1% of women who didn't have prophylactic mastectomy developed a cancer in the other breast compared to about 0.2% of women who had prophylactic mastectomy. Other studies have found that prophylactic mastectomy can lower the risk of developing a new contralateral breast cancer by 90%.
  • Reduced the risk of dying from breast cancer by about 30% for young women (age 18 to 49) diagnosed with a first cancer that was stage I or II and hormone-receptor-negative.
  • Did NOT reduce the risk of dying from breast cancer for women age 50 and older or women diagnosed with a first cancer that was hormone-receptor-positive or stage III.

This study was reported at the 2008 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Breast Cancer Symposium.

The researchers reviewed the medical records of nearly 83,000 women from the U.S. Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) database, which is maintained by the federal government. All of the women in the study were diagnosed with stage I, II, or III breast cancer between 1998 and 2003. About 6,500 of the women (almost 8%) chose to have contralateral prophylactic mastectomy. Their medical histories were compared to those of the 76,281 women who didn't have contralateral prophylactic mastectomy.

For most women in the study, the risk of dying from breast cancer wasn't affected by having prophylactic mastectomy. Still, the risk of developing a new breast cancer was significantly reduced. For some women, lowering the risk of having to deal with a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment in the future makes contralateral prophylactic mastectomy a good choice. For younger women diagnosed with hormone-receptor-negative breast cancer, these results suggest that prophylactic mastectomy makes sense.

If you're considering contralateral prophylactic mastectomy as part of your treatment plan, you might want to talk to your doctor about:

  • Your specific risk of developing a second cancer in the future. While your risk is higher because you've been diagnosed, the amount of the increase depends on many factors, including your age, your family and genetic history, and the personality of the first breast cancer.
  • All your risk reduction options. Contralateral prophylactic mastectomy is not the only step you can take to reduce your risk of another breast cancer. Other options, such as hormonal therapy, may be right for you.
  • The timing and risks of prophylactic mastectomy. You may not be ready to make a decision about contralateral prophylactic mastectomy while you're dealing with your current diagnosis and treatment. Make sure you take the time you need to make a decision that's right for you and your situation.

There are also diet and lifestyle choices that you can make that will lower the risk of the diagnosed breast cancer coming back AND reduce the risk of developing a new, second breast cancer in the future. Visit the Breastcancer.org Lowering Risk for People with a Personal History page to learn more.

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