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Health Psychol. 1992;11(6):349-54.

Mastectomy versus breast conservation surgery: mental health effects at long-term follow-up.

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  • 1Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, PA 15213.


Between 1984 and 1989, 129 Stage 1 and Stage 2 breast cancer patients were entered into a behavioral study in Pittsburgh. Approximately 70% of these patients had elected to have breast conservation (lumpectomy) surgery, with the remainder choosing mastectomy. Using the Profile of Mood States, a measure of perceived social support, and Karnofsky ratings of physical functional status, patients were assessed 3 to 5 days following surgery and again 3 and 15 months following surgery. The data were analyzed using a repeated-measures analysis of covariance, adjusting for aggressiveness of chemotherapy. Compared to mastectomy patients, patients who received breast conservation surgery were rated as more functional by observers, but they perceived themselves as having less energy and less emotional support, especially over the first 3 months of the recovery period. Because there is accumulating evidence that emotional support may act as a stress buffer in various populations and may have survival value, these findings may be particularly troublesome. This study shows that breast conservation surgery is not a psychosocial panacea. Patients whose breasts are spared, especially younger patients, have psychological symptoms that appear acutely worse in the short run and, in the end, are similar to those of patients who elect to have mastectomies. Therefore, patients choosing lumpectomies are not necessarily psychosocially better off than those electing to have mastectomies. Additionally, these patients, particularly younger patients, may require greater social support and potential mental health interventions than they seem to be receiving.

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