SAN ANTONIO – , according to investigators for a multicenter cross-sectional cohort study reported at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.
Women aged 40 or younger make up about 7% of all newly diagnosed cases of breast cancer in the United States, according to lead author, Laura S. Dominici, MD, of Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center and Harvard Medical School, Boston.
“Despite the fact that there is equivalent local-regional control with breast conservation and mastectomy, the rates of mastectomy and particularly bilateral mastectomy are increasing in young women, with a 10-fold increase seen from 1998 to 2011,” she noted in a press conference. “Young women are at particular risk for poorer psychosocial outcomes following a breast cancer diagnosis and in survivorship. However, little is known about the impact of surgery, particularly in the era of increasing bilateral mastectomy, on the quality of life of young survivors.”
Nearly three-fourths of the 560 young breast cancer survivors studied had undergone mastectomy, usually with some kind of reconstruction. Roughly 6 years later, compared with peers who had undergone breast-conserving surgery, women who had undergone unilateral or bilateral mastectomy had significantly poorer adjusted BREAST-Q scores for satisfaction with the appearance and feel of their breasts (beta, –8.7 and –9.3 points) and psychosocial well-being (–8.3 and –10.5 points). The latter also had poorer adjusted scores for sexual well-being (–8.1 points). Physical well-being, which captures aspects such as pain and range of motion, did not differ significantly by type of surgery.
“Local therapy decisions are associated with a persistent impact on quality of life in young breast cancer survivors,” Dr. Dominici concluded. “Knowledge of the potential long-term impact of surgery and quality of life is of critical importance for counseling young women about surgical decisions.”
Moving away from mastectomy
“The data are, to me anyway, more disconcerting when you consider the high mastectomy rate in this country relative to Europe, and this urge to have bilateral mastectomies, which, pardon the expression, is ridiculous in some cases because it doesn’t improve your outcome. And yet, it does have deleterious effects that last for years psychologically,” commented SABCS codirector and press conference moderator C. Kent Osborne, MD, who is director of the Dan L. Duncan Cancer Center at Baylor College of Medicine, Houston. “What can we do about that?” he asked.
“It’s a really challenging problem,” Dr. Dominici replied. “Part of what we are missing in the conversation that we have with our patients is this kind of information. We can certainly tell patients that the outcomes are equivalent, but if they don’t know that the long-term [quality of life] impact is potentially worse, then that may not affect their decision. The more prospective data that we generate to help us figure out which patients are going to have better or worse outcomes with these different types of surgery, the better we will be able to counsel patients with things that will be meaningful to them in the long run.”
The study was not designed to tease out the specific role of anxiety about a recurrence or a new breast cancer, which is a major driver of the decision to have mastectomy and also needs to be addressed during counseling, Dr. Dominici and Dr. Osborne agreed. “I think I spend more time talking patients out of bilateral mastectomy or mastectomy at all than anything,” he commented.