Efficacy of bilateral prophylactic mastectomy in women with a family history of breast cancer

Lynn C. Hartmann, Daniel J. Schaid, John E. Woods, Thomas P. Crotty, Jeffrey L. Myers, P. G. Arnold, Paul M. Petty, Thomas A. Sellers, Joanne L. Johnson, Shannon K. McDonnell, Marlene H. Frost, Robert B. Jenkins, Clive S. Grant, Virginia V. Michels

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1148 Scopus citations


Background: Options for women at high risk for breast cancer include surveillance, chemoprevention, and prophylactic mastectomy. The data on the outcomes for surveillance and prophylactic mastectomy are incomplete. Methods: We conducted a retrospective study of all women with a family history of breast cancer who underwent bilateral prophylactic mastectomy at the Mayo Clinic between 1960 and 1993. The women were divided into two groups - high risk and moderate risk - on the basis of family history. A control study of the sisters of the high-risk probands and the Gail model were used to predict the-number-of breast cancers expected in these two groups in the absence of prophylactic mastectomy. Results: We identified 639 women with a family history of breast cancer who had undergone bilateral prophylactic mastectomy: 214 at high risk and 425 at moderate risk. The median length of follow-up was 14 years. The median age at prophylactic mastectomy was 42 years. According to the Gail model, 37.4 breast cancers were expected in the moderate-risk group; 4 breast cancers occurred (reduction in risk, 89.5 percent; P<0.001). We compared the numbers of breast cancers among the 214 high-risk probands with the numbers among their 403 sisters who had not undergone prophylactic mastectomy. Of these sisters, 38.7 percent (156) had been given a diagnosis of breast cancer (115 cases were diagnosed before the respective proband's prophylactic mastectomy, 38 were diagnosed afterward, and the time of the diagnosis was unknown in 3 cases). By contrast, breast cancer was diagnosed in 1.4 percent (3 of 214) of the probands. Thus, prophylactic mastectomy was associated with a reduction in the incidence of breast cancer of at least 90 percent. Conclusions: In women with a high risk of breast cancer on the basis of family history, prophylactic mastectomy can significantly reduce the incidence of breast cancer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)77-84
Number of pages8
JournalNew England Journal of Medicine
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 14 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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