Study finds that more men with breast cancer are opting for double mastectomies

Posted: 21/10/2015

A report by the Surveillance and Health Services Research Program at the American Cancer Society has found that an increasing number of men are opting for double mastectomies after being diagnosed with breast cancer.

The findings, which were published in the JAMA Surgery Journal in September 2015, examined data from more than 6,000 men who underwent surgery as a result of breast cancer between 2004 to 2011. While just over a quarter of the men had a single mastectomy and a fifth opted for surgery to remove only the tumour, the findings revealed that double mastectomies accounted for 5.6% of male breast removal in 2011, compared to just 3% in 2004.

Ahmedia Jemal, the vice president of the Surveillance and Health Services Research Program and lead author of the study, voiced his concerns about the findings, advising that there is “no evidence for the benefit of the procedure in terms of survival and there is harm associated with it.” To date, there has been very little research into the benefits for men opting to have a double mastectomy and, therefore, it is difficult to ascertain whether this procedure will improve their prognosis, even for those men who have the genetic mutation known as BRCA1 and BRCA2. 

Women have been opting for double mastectomies after being diagnosed with cancer in a single breast for decades. Research has shown that, for some women who have BRCA1 and BRCA2, there is a benefit to having a double mastectomy, as these genetic mutations increase the risk of the cancer developing in the second breast. However, the research indicates that there is little or no benefit for women without this genetic mutation. The concern is that many women are undergoing double mastectomy when it may not be needed and, quite often, they decide to have reconstructive surgery which includes further risks and complications. Men, on the other hand, do not usually elect for such surgery and will not face these additional complications. 

Studies have also demonstrated that there has been a sharp rise in the number of women opting to undergo a double mastectomy due to concerns about developing this form of cancer, particularly if there is a family history of the disease which may put them at an increased risk. The actress, Angelina Jolie, made this decision publically, raising women’s awareness of the need to consider this surgery, especially when they may be at increased risk of developing breast cancer. 

Emily Hartland, an associate in the clinical negligence team, comments: “It is not clear why more men are opting to have this procedure but, understandably, the fear of developing cancer in the second breast is likely to be a factor. It is therefore important that patients are well informed about their treatment options and whether they may be at an increased risk of developing cancer in the second breast due to genetic mutations.”

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