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Studies Support Common Breast Cancer Treatments Removing Just The Lump, Chemotherapy Prove Effective

Long follow-up studies of breast cancer patients confirm the lasting benefits of two strategies that have become commonplace - removing just the lump and combining chemotherapy with mastectomy.

While now standard practice, both lumpectomy and chemotherapy once were controversial. Some doctors argued that it would take a decade or two to learn if the new approaches were truly helpful. Now enough time has passed for an assessment of the long-term effects.

“These data should be reassuring to the many patients with cancer who believe that a diagnosis of breast cancer is a death sentence,” Dr. I. Craig Henderson of the University of California at San Francisco wrote in an editorial accompanying two follow-up studies in today’s issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Until about 25 years ago, breast cancer was treated solely with mastectomy, or complete removal of the cancerous breast. In the 1970s, however, doctors came to believe that adding chemotherapy could improve survival rates.

During the 1980s, studies suggested that a mastectomy was not always necessary. For women with early breast cancer, it appeared that cutting out only the cancerous lump was just as effective.