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HEALTH REPORT - October 30, 2002: Breast Cancer Operation Studies - 2002-10-29

This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

Two new long-term studies have compared two operations for early breast cancer. The studies showed no difference in survival rates among women who had only the cancerous growth removed and those who had the whole breast removed.

The studies were carried out in the United States and Italy. The findings were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The American study was done at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania. It involved more than one-thousand-eight-hundred women. Twenty years ago, they had cancerous growths in one breast measuring up to four centimeters in diameter. Among more than one-third of the patients, the cancer had spread to the lymph glands under the arm.

The women were divided into three treatment groups. One group had a mastectomy operation to remove the breast. Another group had a lumpectomy operation to remove only the growth and surrounding tissue. The third group had a lumpectomy followed by radiation treatments.

The study found no difference among the groups in the chance that the disease would spread. It found no difference in the rate of death from cancer, or in the rate of death for all causes. About forty-seven percent of the women were still alive twenty years later.

However, the study also showed that radiation after a lumpectomy reduced the chance that another cancer would develop later in the same breast. The chance of this was about forty percent in women who had only a lumpectomy and about fourteen percent in those who had a lumpectomy and radiation.

The other study was carried out at the European Institute of Oncology in Milan, Italy. It involved about seven-hundred women who twenty years ago had cancerous growths in one breast no larger than two centimeters. The researchers found that mastectomy was no more effective than lumpectomy.

One cancer expert says the studies show that there is no reason for a woman with early breast cancer to have a mastectomy. Other experts say that some women may choose to have a mastectomy because they do not want to have several weeks of radiation treatment after a lumpectomy. Most experts say the new studies should provide breast cancer patients with a choice of treatment.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Nancy Steinbach.