Cancer Institute A national cancer institute
designated cancer center

Irene Wapnir

Publication Details

  • A REAPPRAISAL OF PROPHYLACTIC MASTECTOMY SURGERY GYNECOLOGY & OBSTETRICS Wapnir, I. L., Rabinowitz, B., Greco, R. S. 1990; 171 (2): 171-184


    The concept of prophylactic mastectomy was nurtured in the shadow of the radical mastectomy. It evolved as preferable to the mutilation caused by the procedure. It developed during a time when the difference between benignancy and malignancy was not as clear and when patients with benign disease were thought to be at significant risk. The idea of surgical prophylaxis accompanied by a superior cosmetic result, in comparison to the radical mastectomy is a noble one. In retrospect, however, it is clear that the indications were ill defined, based often on unfounded risk and predicated on patient and physician anxiety. The scope of risk in carcinoma of the breast has been narrowed, with new information identifying only specific subsets of women with proliferative types of benign disease as more susceptible to the subsequent development of carcinoma. Extensive reviews of material taken at biopsy that had been validated longitudinally have provided data to substantiate this contention. The concept of familial high risk must take into account the number of affected family members, at age diagnosis, menopausal status and bilaterality. The majority of indicants that motivated and propitiated the performance of the bulk of prophylactic mastectomies have lost their relevance. Prophylactic mastectomy for carcinoma, therefore, can perhaps be reserved for women with biopsy-proved, high-risk lesions or an exceptional familial risk, or both, or hereditary risk. Such women must choose for themselves and accept the uncertainty of hypothetic risk reduction, life-long continued surveillance and an altered body image. Guiding patients in the decision should involve a multidisciplinary team composed of a surgical oncologist, geneticist, pathologist, psychotherapist and plastic surgeon. As a concept, the reduction of risk is appealing, but remains yet to prove itself superior to rigorous clinical surveillance with high-quality mammography. The experience reflected in the literature of a seemingly low rate of subsequent carcinoma cannot be judged, because it seems that operations were applied indiscriminantly to patients selected by unknown means and from an unknown population pool. Success based on protecting those not at increased risk only invalidates the operation further. Most surgical and medical oncologists recognize that carcinoma of the breast is either localized or disseminated at the time of the initial diagnosis.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

    View details for Web of Science ID A1990DR88900018

    View details for PubMedID 2200150

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