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Physician Dilemma When Women Demand Prophylactic Mastectomy

Physician Dilemma When Women Demand Prophylactic Mastectomy

A new University of Michigan study addresses an evolving societal issue as more women with breast cancer are electing to have both breasts removed, even when cancer affects only one breast.

The dilemma is that the procedure, called contralateral prophylactic mastectomy (CPM), is an expensive complex surgery that has not been shown to improve survival.

In the research, investigators from the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center examined the complex interaction between patients’ desires for the most extensive treatment and surgeons’ responsibility to minimize harm.

“We hypothesized that patients whose first surgeons recommended against CPM might report less satisfaction, and might be more likely to seek second opinions and pursue surgery by a second surgeon,” says the study’s lead author Steven J. Katz, M.D., M.P.H.

“But in this study, an initial recommendation against CPM had little impact on overall satisfaction with treatment or on decisions to pursue or act on a second opinion.”

The population-based survey found that few patients sought a second opinion or went to a different hospital when their surgeon recommended against CPM.

Further, patients were overwhelmingly satisfied with their treatment, even when their surgeon dismissed CPM with little discussion.

The study, published JAMA Surgery, is the first to explore what transpires after a newly diagnosed unilateral breast cancer patient first meets with a surgeon to discuss her options.

The survey asked 1,140 patients who considered CPM about the extent to which CPM was discussed during their first consult and recorded patient satisfaction with their surgery decisions, whether or not they received a second surgical opinion and whether a second surgeon operated.

In this large, diverse sample of women newly diagnosed with unilateral breast cancer, about half considered CPM.

A quarter of those patients reported that their surgeon recommended against CPM; another 30 percent reported no substantial discussion about CPM.

In general, dissatisfaction with the surgical decision was uncommon — just 7.6 percent of respondents. Dissatisfaction was very low — only four percent — among patients whose surgeons discussed CPM but did not recommend against it.

While still relatively low, the level of dissatisfaction was significantly higher, 15 percent, in instances when the surgeon recommended against CPM with no substantive discussion of the option.

A second opinion was sought by one in five respondents, and one in 10 patients went on to have surgery performed by a second surgeon.

Women whose first surgeon recommended against CPM were not more likely to seek a second opinion or to receive surgery by a second surgeon.

This is the latest in a series of studies by the Michigan Medicine-based Cancer Surveillance and Outcomes Research Team, examining both breast cancer patient and provider perspectives on treatment decision-making in general and issues of potential overtreatment in particular.

It is the first to capture information about the newly diagnosed patient’s first surgical consult.

“The increased attention to and preference for CPM among patients for whom it is not a clinical imperative is a relatively recent phenomenon,” says Katz.

“It’s one of many considerations on the minds of patients we know are understandably anxious and who may feel they need to make treatment decisions quickly after diagnosis.”

Katz notes that doctors are looking for guidance on how to address patients’ concerns and respect their wishes without exposing them to more extensive treatment than medically called for or losing them to another surgeon.

“About 95 percent of breast cancer patients are treated by the first surgeon they see,” says Katz. “It’s so important in those initial consultations that the patient and the surgeon feel free to discuss all of the options and work together to determine the best path forward.”

While more research is needed to develop and test tools to help facilitate these crucial conversations, in the meantime Katz believes this research should provide some reassurance to surgeons.

“It demonstrates that recommending against CPM won’t necessarily result in patients second-guessing the treatment choices they make in partnership with their primary surgeon,” he says, “or looking elsewhere for advice or care.”

Source: University of Michigan

Physician Dilemma When Women Demand Prophylactic Mastectomy

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Physician Dilemma When Women Demand Prophylactic Mastectomy. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 5, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 7 Apr 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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