Why do many women experience breast cancer recurrence after a mastectomy?
05/21/2018 // Cassie B. // Views

If you find out you have breast cancer, your first instinct might be to get rid of it using whatever means possible. Having a mastectomy isn’t a decision any woman takes lightly, of course, but, for many, the idea of sacrificing your breast to be cancer-free seems like a fair trade to make. Unfortunately, however, having a mastectomy isn’t the end of many women’s breast cancer story – and for some, it’s just the beginning.

In fact, breast cancer patients are actually more likely to see their cancer return and spread in the first year and a half after getting a mastectomy or having their tumor removed along with healthy surrounding tissue.

Now, a study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has found that it’s actually the healing process of the surgical scar that is causing women’s breast cancer to recur after surgery. It’s a complicated mechanism that has to do with your immune system, whose default mode is stopping the spread of cancer. While healing from a mastectomy, these healing forces are distracted from their job of stemming the spread of cancer and forced to focus on getting the wound closed up instead, preventing infections, spurring the growth of blood vessels, and promoting repair. In other words, they’re simply too busy to keep cancer cells from spreading to other body parts.

It’s this wound response that allows disseminated cancer cells to then grow and thrive, forming tumors in other areas of the patient’s body such as the lungs, liver and brain. In many cases, this can be even more dangerous than the original breast tumor, which is a very scary prospect indeed.


If you’ve already gotten a mastectomy or you have a good reason to do so, you can try to minimize the chances of this happening to you through a healthy diet. Consuming foods rich in antioxidants can help fight against cancer and protect your body from its spread. Some excellent choices include leafy green vegetables, dark chocolate, and berries. All of these are useful even if you don’t have cancer as they support a healthy immune system in general.

The researchers also suggest that anti-inflammatory medicine could help keep the immune system under control so the cancer can’t spread. Tests with mice showed that this was another effective route, but more studies are needed to see just how successful it may be in humans.

Mastectomy doesn’t reduce risk of cancer death

A study of more than half a million American breast cancer patients over the course of eight years found that a double mastectomy does not offer significant protection to women from a recurrence of their cancer. There are a few specific cases where it may be useful, such as in those with a strong family history of ovarian or breast cancer or a personal history of radiation, but by and large, double mastectomies aren’t helping women live longer.

This is particularly concerning against the backdrop of rising double mastectomies involving one cancerous and one healthy breast, a procedure that rose from 4 percent of patients in 2002 to almost 13 percent in 2012. In some cases, women are undergoing the procedure out of a fear of recurrence that experts say is disproportionate to the true risk, while others might be pushed into it by profit-minded doctors.

Cancer is absolutely terrifying, but it’s important to consider all the facts before undergoing such a dramatic procedure. Getting a second and even third opinion can sometimes help put things in perspective, especially from a doctor who won’t be profiting from the operation, and researching alternatives can help give people peace of mind. Sometimes a mastectomy really is the best choice, but many of us have been conditioned to believe that surgery and chemotherapy are the only ways to rid ourselves of cancer, and that simply isn’t always the case.

Read Cancer.news for more breaking news on cancer discoveries.

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