For years, there has been concern that nipple-sparing mastectomies — a procedure that removes only the breast tissue, not the skin or the nipple — might raise the risk of the cancer returning.
Researchers analyzed data on 101 women who had this surgery at Georgetown University Medical Center between the years 1989 and 2010, and they found that in almost half of their patients, their cancer did not return. These findings match findings from past studies.
Still, the head researcher, Georgetown chief of plastic surgery Scott L. Spear, MD, believes that more research is needed. "I believe this procedure is safe for women with breast cancer and I believe the data will eventually prove that it is safe," he told WebMD. "But I would like to see larger, more robust studies."
WebMD reported on the study:
Nipple-sparing surgery is considered more challenging than radical mastectomy because the blood supply to the nipple and surrounding skin must be maintained to keep the tissue alive.
Of 162 breasts operated on in the 101 women in the study, 113 of the surgeries were done to prevent breast cancer and 49 were performed as treatment. Three nipples had to be removed later because of tissue death and four others had partial tissue death, requiring additional surgery.
Thirty-nine breast cancer patients in the analysis had biopsies at the time of their surgery. Four (10%) showed evidence of cancer cells in the nipple or surrounding areas, requiring additional surgery to remove the tissue.
Cosmetic surgeon Scott Sullivan, MD, FACS, says the now-routine practice of performing biopsies on the nipple during surgery to determine if cancer cells are present had led to the wider acceptance of nipple-sparing mastectomy for the treatment of breast cancer.
Sullivan is co-founder of the Center for Restorative Breast Surgery in New Orleans. "No matter how good your reconstructive results are, if there is a recurrence of cancer the surgery is a failure," he tells WebMD.
The surgery is not appropriate for all breast cancer patients. Women with large tumors or tumors located close to the nipple are not candidates for nipple-sparing mastectomy.
Black women are no strangers to breast cancer or mastectomies.
African-Americans have a higher incidence rate of breast cancer before age 40 and are more likely to die from breast cancer at every age. According to the American Cancer Society, the death rate for breast cancer from 2003 to 2007 was 32.4 percent for Black women, compared to 23.9 percent for white women.
To learn more about breast cancer and treatment options, go to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.
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