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U of M cancer doctor wants to see trend toward double mastectomies reversed


A new study shows more women who have cancer in one breast are choosing to have both breasts surgically removed – even without evidence that double mastectomies improve survival rates.

The latest study found the frequency of double mastectomies has tripled in ten years, Time magazine reports. The research was led by an oncologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and published Friday in the journal "Annals of Surgery."

The University of Minnesota's chief of surgical oncology, Dr. Todd Tuttle, was not involved in the new study but it's consistent with similar research he's done. It has him renewing a call for doctors to discourage women from choosing double mastectomies when they're treated for breast cancer.

"What I try to tell women and tell other doctors to tell women is that the risk of getting cancer [in the other breast] is low and removing it won't improve their survival and there are increased side effects of taking out your normal breast," Tuttle tells CNN.

Tuttle says the choice belongs to the patient and there is limited time available for women to make decisions about what kind of breast cancer surgery to have – lumpectomy, single mastectomy, or double mastectomy.

As the Telegraph notes, doctors have cautioned that having a healthy breast removed comes with risks of surgical complications or infection, a long recovery time, a high cost, and a possible effect on self-image.

Meanwhile, there are no discernible benefits for breast cancer patients having the second, healthy breast removed.

Tuttle told the U of M Foundation last month there is now strong data showing no improvement in long-term survival:

"Most women with cancer in one breast grossly exaggerate their risk for developing cancer in the second breast, which is only about 4 to 5 percent after 10 years. The greater risk is in having the cancer spread to other parts of the body. So if they’re choosing double mastectomy for peace of mind, it’s a false peace of mind, " Tuttle said.

The study released Friday shows a trend toward double mastectomies that Tuttle identified in 2007 research has gained momentum since then.

Tuttle discussed the surgical options available to women with breast cancer in a YouTube video a few years ago.

A fact sheet from the National Cancer Institute offers answers to frequently asked questions about breast cancer surgeries.

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