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Researchers: Unnecessary Double Mastectomies Do Not Improve Chances Of Avoiding Recurring Breast Cancer

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- An increasing number of women who have cancer in one breast are choosing to have the other healthy breast removed as well.

New research, however, suggests most of those women who have unnecessary double mastectomies do not improve their chances of avoiding recurring breast cancer.

More than a quarter million American women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, CBS 2's Dr. Max Gomez reported. About 40,000 of them will die of the disease.

So it is understandable that women will do almost anything to reduce their chances of developing breast cancer.

For a significant number of women, that means having their healthy breast removed after their initial breast cancer, in order to reduce the chance of their cancer coming back in the other breast.

Trouble is, "When breast cancer comes back, believe it or not, it does not come back in the other breast. It can come back or recur in the body, but removing the other healthy breast really in no way reduces the chance of a cancer that a woman has, coming back," said Dr. Elisa Port, Chief of Breast Surgery, Mt. Sinai Hospital.

Removing the healthy breast does reduce the chance of developing a separate, new cancer in that breast, but experts say most women significantly overestimate the odds of that happening.

Unless a woman has a genetic mutation such as BRCA 1 or 2, that dramatically increases her risk or has a very strong family history of breast cancer. But that's fewer than 10 percent of breast cancer patients.

So what's driving this increase in preventative mastectomy? The biggest reason is fear of cancer and what life-long imaging and biopsies might mean, Gomez reported.

"Women who are getting mammograms and especially MRIs, which are increasingly being used to screen for breast cancer, are associated with some false positives, which generate biopsies anxiety and fears in and of themselves," said Port.

A woman may also want a more symmetrical cosmetic appearance after reconstruction in the original breast with cancer, Gomez reported.

Mastectomy is a big operation with risks of bleeding, infection, blood clots, scar tissue, numbness and tenderness in the breast as well as lymphedema, Gomez reported.

Experts suggest talking with a breast expert to figure out your real risks of breast cancer before jumping into a major decision like mastectomy.

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