Women With Early Breast Cancer May Not Need Surgery

According to new research findings, many early breast cancer patients won’t have to have the painful lymph node removal surgery that has, for over a century, been routine.  This was because the women in the study had chemotherapy and radiation, which most likely removed disease from the nodes, despite the previous assumption that once these nodes are cancerous, they have the potential to spread to vital organs and can only be removed by surgery. 

According to the new results, does not improve the patient’s chance of survival or decrease the likelihood that the cancer will return.  And the surgery has significant complications, like infection and lymphedema, a chronic swelling in the arm.  It’s not clear, though, whether the results are the same for women who don’t have chemotherapy or radiation.

The study is especially newsworthy because it should change medical practice for many patients.  And it may take a while for doctors and patients to adjust to the idea that surgery is not the best option.  “This is such a radical change in thought that it’s been hard for many people to get their heads around it,” said Dr. Monica Morrow, one of the study’s authors.  According to her, people find it easier to accept the idea of more treatment instead of less, even if the data supports decreased intervention.

In the New York Times, Denise Grady points out the recent trend toward less invasive treatments for breast cancer; mastectomy rates have dropped since the 1980′s, and doctors now remove large, dense tumors while using radiation to destroy smaller traces of the disease.

Although it’s good that doctors are responding well to the new research, this is a reminder that medical authority is not infallible.  That’s why it’s so crucial that studies like this continue, and that we don’t unquestioningly accept doctors’ advice.  One study co-author admitted that, by removing large numbers of nodes, “I have a feeling we’ve been doing a lot of harm.”  And it does seem that if women have been having these surgeries unnecessarily, they suffered through infection and lymphedema, in addition to chemotherapy and radiation, for nothing.  But we can’t expect medicine to be perfect.  And so in that sense, a study like this is ultimately encouraging, if it means that women in the future will be spared a painful surgery.

Photo from Flickr.

46 comments

Alice H.
Alice Hendry5 years ago

I agree it is great if you can avoid surgery and that it works.

Stephanie Bolls
Stephanie Bolls5 years ago

I am a retired nurse. I see this as being a way to perhaps NOT detect breast cancer in the early stages at all. It saves money - not lives. On April 19th, 2010, I went into surgery because the doctor was unable to do an aspiration biopsy of the 2 lumps in my right breast.

While I was being prepped to go into the OR - the surgeon informed me that he was going to insert titanium clamps inside my right breast. This was the first time that these 'clamps' had ever been mentioned. I had already been given a sedative and agreed to it. I gave in to my fear.

I came to in recovery with one forth of my breast missing and clamps inserted permanently in my breast to pinpoint where radiation would be directed if need be.

I had zero cancer or pr-cancer cells! My follow up did not go well. The doctor had the bedside manner of a plastic potted plant. I was thrilled to know that I had no cancer - especially since my mother had died at age 52 from lung cancer. However, the clamps are still there and always will be. I asked him if I could see one or perhaps get the internet site just to look at what foreign objects were inside me. He and his staff refused to show me ANYTHING.

It was a horrid experience. It decreased my self esteem. And it was NOT necessary! There are other, far less dramatic, ways to diagnose FIBROCYSTIC DISEASE.

Robert O.
Robert O.5 years ago

Interesting.

Shin Takahashi
Shin Takahashi5 years ago

this is good news for women it is true.cheers

Jamie Clemons
Jamie Clemons5 years ago

cut first ask questions later.

K s Goh
KS Goh5 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Julie W.
Julie W.5 years ago

Being interested in health, I search the net often, and see a lot of new studies. But they seem to take forever to reach doctors, who, in my experience, don't trust the internet.

So this information may take a while to seep through.

Diane Wayne
Past Member 5 years ago

May those going through this terrible affliction be blessed. I do believe that deodorants with aluminum clorhydrate is definitely a culprit in causing this disease.

Geynell Eskite
Geynell Eskite5 years ago

No surgery sounds good to me. Any helpful information is good news.

Kay L.
KayL NOFORWARDS5 years ago

It's something I hope I never have to decide, but given the history of cancer in my family (both sides), the odds are that this is something I need to keep in mind.