Doctors weigh in on breast cancer treatment and prevention

Breast_cancer_pollLast month was Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so it’s no surprise there was a lot of discussion in the SERMO community about screening, prevention and treatment for breast cancer.  Today, we’re sharing some of the insights the doctors discussed about breast cancer treatment and prevention.  If you are a physician, log into SERMO and join the conversation.


Angelina Jolie’s decision to get prophylactic surgery to remove her breasts and ovaries when she was found to be positive for the BRCA 1 gene led to an influx of patients requesting such surgery. This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we decided to poll SERMO physicians to see what they think about protocols for testing for BRCA mutations and what to do if a woman is found to be positive.

Our survey found that doctors did not support universal BRCA testing, but nearly three quarters supported some sort of medical intervention if a woman was found to be positive for BRCA mutations. Forty-six percent of doctors polled believed that patients with BRCA mutations should have their breasts and ovaries removed and 26% though that these patients should have just preventive mastectomies. Only 28% believed that these women should not get preventative surgery.

Since only 5-10% of patients with breast cancer have BRCA mutations, we also wanted to poll our physicians about testing and treatment for patients without them. We asked SERMO doctors: Do you agree with the American Cancer Society’s recommendation that women begin having mammograms at age 45 instead of age 40? And the results were quite interesting. Our doctors were split; an even 50-50.

One doctor said the age for screening should be dependent on risk factors; “Each woman should discuss risk with physician and tailor screening accordingly.”

Another said, “Many, many cancers appear in younger women and are detected by mammogram. We should be screening MORE women not fewer. This is life or death, not dollars per person.”

And, a third doctor said, “There are plenty of cancers in the 40-49 age group and the added radiation dose is worth the benefit of added screening.”

Finally, we polled doctors about patients who have been diagnosed with breast cancer in one breast, but not the other. Sixty-eight percent of doctors polled said that they think women should not have prophylactic surgery to remove their healthy breast.

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