More women are having both breasts removed after cancer is diagnosed in one, even though there is little evidence that a double mastectomy can improve survival, a study showed Monday.
Researchers at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in New York state found that between 1995 and 2005 the number of women who had the healthy breast removed after cancer was diagnosed in the other more than doubled.
More than 680 women underwent the procedure, called a contralateral mastectomy, in 2005 compared with fewer than 300 in 1995, data studied by the researchers showed in the American Cancer Society's journal, "Cancer."
The number of women who did not have cancer at all but had breasts removed also rose during the same 11-year period, from 106 to 128, said the study.
While the total number of women undergoing a mastectomy to treat cancer fell from nearly 6,800 in 1995 to 4,936 in 2005, the percentage who had a "protective," or prophylactic mastectomy rose from 5.6 percent to just over 14 percent during the 11-year time period.
"Although the total number of prophylactic mastectomies performed per year was small, it appears that the use of the surgery is increasing," said Stephen Edge, the lead researcher on the study.
Edge recommended that women with breast cancer should undergo "careful counseling regarding benefits and risks" before having the healthy breast removed.
The number of prophylactic mastectomies performed in the United States could be even higher, the report suggested.
Because some insurance plans do not reimburse patients who have had prophylactic surgery for breast cancer, the diagnosis code for such a procedure is under-used, the study said.
More than 41,000 women die of breast cancer in the United States each year, making the illness the sixth leading cause of death for women in the country.