Breast Cancer Study Shows Mastectomy Makes Little Difference

Breast cancer kills more than half a million women worldwide every year and as many as 60,000 American women each year are told they have a very early stage of breast cancer — Stage 0, as it is commonly known — a possible precursor to what could be a deadly tumor. And almost every one of the women has either a lumpectomy or a mastectomy, and often a double mastectomy, removing a healthy breast as well.

But now, a new US study suggests that this may not do much to stop the disease from spreading; Patients with Stage 0 had close to the same likelihood of dying of breast cancer as women in the general population, and the few who died did so despite treatment, not for lack of it!

The authors of the JAMA study looked at 108,196 women who received a ductal carcinoma in situ, or D.C.I.S. diagnosis between 1988 and 2011. According to their calculations, a woman who receives a diagnosis of this Stage 0 cancer has about a 3.3% chance of dying of that cancer within 20 years.

They write that this is 1.8 times higher than the general population's risk of dying from breast cancer in that same period, but still a low mortality rate overall. Certain sub-groups were much more likely to die of breast cancer after a DCIS diagnosis: women under 35 and black women, for example. But as the accompanying editorial notes, for most patients, the likelihood of dying within 20 years is relatively similar to the likelihood that any woman will die of breast cancer during her lifetime, which the American Cancer Society says is a 3% chance.

Al Jazeera's Kristen Saloomey reports from New York.

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