Mastectomies Are Dangerous

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Angelina Jolie did it. In fact, she’s the face of it in some ways having done it only due to her carrying what modern medicine considers a “genetic disposition” to it. The mastectomy, a procedure used to remove the breast after an aggressive breast cancer diagnosis, or in the more controversial “preventative” action, is ever-popular. And the amount of mastectomies are rising, according to a study from last year.

In the past decade, there have been marked trends toward higher proportions of BCS-eligible patients undergoing mastectomy, breast reconstruction, and bilateral mastectomy. The greatest increases are seen in women with node-negative and in situ disease. Mastectomy rates do not yet exceed current American Cancer Society/American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer accreditation benchmarks.

I noted that final sentence because, well, it needs to be noted. Many women subjected to mastectomies either did so due to carrying the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes which are touted as massive precursors to breast cancer, or due to misdiagnosis (like this woman). The credibility of preventive mastectomy has been called into question, as you can imagine. The American Cancer Society paints the picture of the disfiguring surgery in almost a heroic way (see justifications above in high benchmarks). Believe me, I respect and empathize with any woman who has had to go through it, but I do think we need to question how needed it actually is.

The main reason to question it is because mastectomies are simply dangerous. In fact, they are the most dangerous breast cancer treatments available. When you combine mastectomies with breast reconstruction, you risk serious financial gloom and health complications surpassing all other treatments. A recent study examined the burdens of mastectomies. The study used 100,000 women with early-stage breast cancer. The researchers analyzed 10 years of medical claims within two divided groups: Over / Under 65 years of age. The under 65 group of women who had a mastectomy followed by reconstruction ended up having complications. In the latter half (over 65), the number was 70%.

And the cost are no joke either. You can see a graph here directly from the study itself.

image credit: http://apps.npr.org/documents/document.html?id=2644818-SABCS-v2

image credit: http://apps.npr.org/documents/document.html?id=2644818-SABCS-v2

For those who do end up with complications, the complication ends up tallying an average cost of $10,000. That’s in addition to the treatment’s initial cost of $1,400 to $3,600.

With mastectomy rates increasing, there is really no indication that the financial and health related complications will do anything but scale in growth. It is important that women understand that they do have options and should seriously research and consider everything. When a Doctor recommends a mastectomy, do your research, particularly if you don’t have breast cancer in the first place. These procedures are very serious surgeries which aren’t without serious risk, as the study shows.
Photo by KOMUnews

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