60,000 Breast Cancer Surgeries: Largely Unnecessary?

A friend of mine has been diagnosed with breast cancer. The doctor delivered the news in a manner reminiscent of her mother saying “it’s just pimples, dear” when she was 13 years old. A lumpectomy is scheduled. The doctor warned that a mastectomy or double mastectomy may follow. After that, chemotherapy and/or radiation.

Her cancer is currently classified as an early stage of breast cancer, or Stage 0. Knowing that our family has already been on this horrific circus ride, she asked for a personal opinion. If you’re reading this, please understand that this article is largely that – personal opinion – but it also contains the newest research on Stage 0 breast cancer surgeries. Namely, DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ).

I’m writing this as an article to keep my thoughts, heart, and research organized and I do so best on screen. I’m also publishing this because the new research isn’t getting out quick enough to women diagnosed with Stage 0 breast cancer.

  • In America every year, there are up to 60,000 of you (women).
  • Unitl just recently, Stage 0 has been thought to be a precursor to cancer tumors.
  • Most women are recommended to, and will have, a lumpectomy, a mastectomy, or a double mastectomy under the guise of prevention.

What is DCIS?

Abnormal cells in the milk ducts of the breast (important to note here that these are classified as abnormal, not specifically cancerous).

A DCIS diagnosis now accounts for nearly a quarter of all cancer diagnoses resulting from a mammogram. (The numbers have risen dramatically in the last decade, due largely to better scanning equipment – smaller cell groupings can be detected.)

The Latest Research on DCIS Treatments

Laying aside for a moment the question of whether or not DCIS is actually a precursor to breast cancer, let’s look at the effectiveness of treatment (lumpectomy, mastectomy, or double mastectomy).

Research findings have just been published on the JAMA Oncology website (see references).

  • The study followed 100,000 women diagnosed with DCIS over the span of 20 years.
  • Study data was retrieved from a national cancer registry.
  • Most of the women in the study had undergone a lumpectomy. The remainder, mastectomies or double mastectomies.

Twenty years after treatment these women had a 3.3 percent chance of being diagnosed with or dying from breast cancer.

According to Dr. Laura J. Esserman’s editorial in the quoted study, a stat similar to the average woman’s chance of being diagnosed or dying of breast cancer. (Dr. Esserman is a breast cancer surgeon and researcher at the University of California.)

You caught that right?

Hundreds of thousands of breast surgeries. Not much difference, if any, in the odds of a future breast cancer diagnosis or breast cancer related death.

DCIS or Not: Same Odds of Breast Cancer Related Deaths

Let me say it again.

  • Women diagnosed with DCIS had a similar likelihood of dying of breast cancer as women not in the study (no DCIS or no diagnosis).
  • And the women in the study who we lost to breast cancer, had been conventionally treated for breast cancer.

Again I want you to think of 60,000 women a year.
I want you to think of 600,000 women a decade.
I want you to consider – over the same time span of this 20 year study – 1.2 million women.

Sure, the study only looked at 100,000 women, but whether it is 100,000 or 1.2 million, this is a lot of breast surgery not sparing women from future breast cancer diagnosis or breast cancer related deaths.

Tens of thousands? Nay, hundreds of thousands of women in America alone potentially undergoing unnecessary surgeries for conditions that are – based on this research – unlikely to result in cancer.

As New York Times journalist Gina Kolata recently pointed out in “Doubt Is Raised Over Value of Surgery for Breast Lesion at Earliest Stage” (August 21, 2015), “Women who had an entire breast removed, or even both breasts as a sort of double precaution, should have been protected from invasive breast cancer. Instead, the findings showed, they had the same risk as those who had a lumpectomy.”

Another ‘quote of note’ from Kolata’s article “In medicine, we have a tendency to get too enthusiastic about a technique and overuse it. This has happened with the treatment of D.C.I.S.” — Dr. Otis W. Brawley, chief medical officer at the American Cancer Society.

Knowing the numbers (600,000 women over a decade; 100,000 women followed over two decades) and that surgery did not affect survival rate, I now leave the decision about your diagnosis and your breasts in your capable hands.

  • I beg you not to fall prey to fear. Not to rest on your doctor’s shoulders, diagnosis, suggestion, or wisdom.
  • I beg you to continue on in your research. To consider options other than lumpectomies, mastectomies.
  • To find ways of coping and healing that may not include expensive, intrusive and possibly disfiguring surgeries.

Keep going, start with the list below.

References:
http://oncology.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=2427488
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/21/health/breast-cancer-ductal-carcinoma-in-situ-study.html

Also, if you want to know about natural cures for cancer (at any stage), find The Truth About Cancer’s documentary here. (11+ hours of leading expert and survivor interviews – free for the weekend of August 21-24). https://go.thetruthaboutcancer.com/quest/replay/