Double mastectomies are typically recommended for women with breast cancer who also test positive for the BRCA 1 or 2 gene. But in a small, new retrospective study, published in the American Journal of Surgery, researchers from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center have found that many women without the gene mutations - and without a high risk of getting cancer in their other breast - are still choosing to have their healthy breast removed.
After reviewing the charts of 110 post-surgery patients, the researchers found that 61 percent of the women tested negative for the BRCA mutation, and of that number, 37 percent underwent bilateral mastectomies. Marissa Howard-McNatt, MD, who led the study, doesn’t know exactly why these women – who were found to be mostly college-educated, married and Caucasian – made the difficult decision to have both breasts removed. (Recent research has shown that double mastectomies don't improve survival for most patients.)
“We tell them there are no good studies to show that removing both breasts will improve their overall survival," Howard-McNatt said in a release. "We’re not sure this is helping them, but they’re still choosing to have both removed.”
Howard-McNatt, who suspects fear may be driving many of these choices, is already doing more in-depth research to address this issue. “There’s not a lot in the literature that looks at this and that’s what my next study will focus on," she said.
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