Many preventive mastectomies may be unnecessary

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Over the past decade, increasing numbers of women diagnosed with cancer in one breast have been opting to have the unaffected breast removed as well. The procedure is often recommended for women with a genetic mutation that puts them at high risk of developing a second cancer. But for women at average risk, the surgery offers little benefit.

A recent study, published online Dec. 21, 2016, by JAMA Surgery, helps to explain why so many women are opting for double mastectomy. Researchers from the University of Michigan surveyed 2,578 women who had surgery for early-stage cancer in one breast. Overall, 44% said they considered double mastectomy. Patients were grouped based on their genetic risk of developing cancer in the unaffected breast.

A quarter of the women at higher risk underwent double mastectomy, but so did 14% of those at average risk. Among patients who considered double mastectomy, only 38% understood that the procedure doesn't improve survival for all women with breast cancer. However, among women who said that their surgeons recommended against double mastectomy, only 2% went on to choose the procedure.

This study underscores the importance of fully understanding the risks and benefits of any procedure that has been recommended to you.