Which Breast Cancer Surgery Leads to Better Quality of Life?

Roxanne Nelson, RN, BSN

April 21, 2022

Women diagnosed with early breast cancer facing surgery often have a choice of having all of their breast or only a part of the breast removed.

A new study shows that a patient's satisfaction with their breasts at 10 years after surgery is similar for both groups of women.

However, superior psychosocial and sexual well-being at 10 years after surgery was reported by women who underwent breast-conserving surgery and adjuvant radiation therapy (RT) as compared to those who underwent mastectomy and reconstruction.

"These findings may inform preference-sensitive decision-making for women with early-stage breast cancer," write the authors, led by Benjamin D. Smith, MD, Department of Radiation Oncology, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston.

The study was published online April 13 in JAMA Surgery.

These findings have important implications for patient decision-making, given that more women eligible for breast-conserving surgery are opting for a mastectomy, say Sudheer Vemuru, MD, from the University of Colorado School of Medicine, Aurora, and colleagues, writing in an accompanying editorial.

"Overall, the preponderance of evidence suggests superior short-term and long-term patient-reported outcomes in patients with early-stage breast cancer undergoing breast conserving surgery compared with mastectomy," they comment.

Study Details

For their study, Smith and colleagues conducted a comparative effectiveness research study using data from the Texas Cancer Registry and identified women diagnosed with stage 0-II breast cancer and treated with breast-conserving surgery or mastectomy and reconstruction between 2006 and 2008.

A total of 647 patients were included in their analysis (40%; 356 had undergone breast-conserving surgery; 291 had undergone mastectomy and reconstruction), 551 (85.2%) confirmed treatment with breast-conserving surgery with RT (n = 315) or mastectomy and reconstruction without RT (n = 236).

The median age of the cohort was 53 years and the median time from diagnosis to survey was 10.3 years. Mastectomy and reconstruction were more common among women who were White, younger, node-positive, had larger tumors, had bilateral breast cancer, received chemotherapy, and had higher income.

The primary outcome was patient satisfaction with their breasts, as measured with the BREAST-Q patient-reported outcome measure. Secondary outcomes included physical well-being, psychosocial well-being, and sexual well-being. The EuroQol Health-Related Quality of Life 5-Dimension, 3-Level gauged health utility, and local therapy decisional regret was measured via the Decisional Regret Scale.

Using breast-conserving surgery plus RT as the referent, the authors did not find any significant differences in breast satisfaction, physical well-being, health utility, or decisional regret among the study cohorts: breast satisfaction: effect size, 2.71 (P = .30); physical well-being: effect size, –1.80 (P = .36); health utility: effect size, –0.003 (P = .83); and decisional regret: effect size, 1.32 (P = .61).

However, psychosocial well-being (effect size, –8.61; P < .001) and sexual well-being (effect size, –10.68; P < .001) were significantly worse among women who had undergone mastectomy and reconstruction without RT.

They noted that interactions of race and ethnicity and age by treatment group were not significant for reported satisfaction with breast outcomes. But the findings "indicated that the burden of poor long-term QOL outcomes was greater among younger individuals, those with lower educational attainment and income, and certain racial and ethnic minority populations," they write. "These findings suggest that opportunities exist to enhance equity in the long-term QOL of individuals with breast cancer."

The editorialists note that previous studies have also found diminished quality-of-life following mastectomy compared with breast-conserving surgery. However, most of these prior studies included patients undergoing breast-conserving surgery without RT, patients undergoing mastectomy without reconstruction, and patients undergoing mastectomy with RT.

In contrast, this latest study "directly compared breast-conserving surgery with RT vs mastectomy and reconstruction without RT to avoid those potential confounders," they point out.

The study was supported by grants from the National Cancer Institute and other bodies. Several of the study authors disclosed relationships with industry and/or with nonprofit organizations. The full list can be found with the original article. Editorialist Clara Lee, MD, reported receiving grants from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality during the conduct of the study.

JAMA Surg. Published online April 13, 2022. Abstract, Editorial

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