Breast cancer doctors and surgeons are seeing an increase in the number of women requesting unnecessary double mastectomies after Angelina Jolie announced her surgery earlier this year.
“This trend has been most pronounced among the youngest women with breast cancer,” said Shoshanna Rosenberg, a researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.
A new study shows that even before Jolie’s mastectomy, many women under the age of 40 who were diagnosed with cancer in one breast, also had the other, healthy breast removed. However, a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine on Sept. 17, found that removing a healthy breast decreases the survival rate for a woman diagnosed with breast cancer.
“Because of this trend, we sought to better understand why the youngest women — those diagnosed at age 40 or younger — were deciding to have this surgery,” Rosenberg said.
The study found that many women choose to have a contralateral prophylactic mastectomy (CPM) because they overestimate their risk of dying from breast cancer, CBS News reported. Surveying 123 women age 40 or younger, researchers found 94 percent of women who opted for a CPM did so because they believed it would increase their chance of survival and 95 percent said it gave them “peace of mind.”
The study found that almost all the women surveyed overestimated the actual risk that they would get cancer in the healthy breast.
LiveScience reported more and more doctors are hearing, “If Angelina Jolie did it, shouldn’t I do the same?”
Jolie made the decision to have a CPM because she has the breast cancer gene BRCA-1 and had an 87 percent chance of getting cancer. Other celebrities with BRCA-1 disagreed with her decision. Singer-songwriter Melissa Ethridge said she didn’t believe Jolie made the “brave choice.”
“I actually think it’s the most fearful choice you can make when confronting anything with cancer,” she said.
What confounded researchers the most was the fact that women who knew CPM would not increase their chance of survival and yet elected for the surgery anyway.
“Additional clarification of conficting responses — specifically, the inconsistencies between the importance of improved survival as a reason for choosing CPM and the acknowledgment that CPM is not associated with better survival outcome — would be helpful,” the authors of the study wrote.
Many women reported that the outcome of their surgery was worse than they thought it would be. After CPM, 42 percent had issues with their sense of sexuality, 31 percent said they felt self-conscious about their appearance, and 33 percent felt there were more surgeries or procedures than they had expected.
Researchers believe the study may present teachable opportunity for doctors, and with accurate data, women may not elect to have unnecessary surgery.