Mastectomy study reveals risks long held by SA doctors

MD Anderson study recommends breast cancer lumpectomy when possible

SAN ANTONIO – A study on the outcomes of breast cancer surgeries at MD Anderson Cancer Center verifies a long-held suspicion by San Antonio doctors, who don’t always turn to mastectomy as the means to remove a breast tumor.

The study, initially released at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium in December, makes clear that women who undergo a full mastectomy and reconstruction after an early breast cancer diagnosis double their risk of complications from the surgery.

"In women over 65 years of age, the complication rate was three times as many," said Dr. Steven Kalter at the Start Center for Cancer Care in San Antonio.

He said that he has great trust in the plastic surgeons who provide reconstructive surgeries for women who get full mastectomies, but he said their services are not needed in all cases, and that can put women at risk.

One case that serves as a perfect example is that of Anna Elizande, who three years ago at age 50 was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was immediately ready to follow in her mother’s footsteps and get the more aggressive and invasive surgery.

"I was terrified. I was thinking, 'Everything's coming off, and we have to do it right now,'" Elizande said.

But Kalter told her rushing into a mastectomy and reconstruction was not only unnecessary, it probably would not change the outcome of her cancer to any great degree.

"In not every case is it necessary. In  Anna's case, she had a nice, as it were, location for her breast cancer. The lumpectomy was possible, the cosmetic outcome from that was good. The radiation from that did not cause further damage. From there, she had done well with subsequent treatment," Kalter said.

He said that advances in how early breast cancer is eradicated and how to identify the different types have created more targeted treatment, giving women many more choices. In fact, Kalter said treatment has become so fine-tuned, it’s often difficult to determine which breast had the lumpectomy.

Elizande said she’s thankful for the calm hand of an experienced oncologist to help her through the roughest moment of her life.

"I just want to tell women, don't be so quick to make that decision. You need to take a few breaths, and see what your doctor recommends and suggests to you," she said.

For more on the study, click here.