By Stephanie Stahl

By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Women are getting potentially unnecessary surgery hoping to guard against breast cancer.  New research says it’s happening more and more, but it’s not saving lives.

Early stage breast cancer can often be treated conservatively with a lumpectomy, but a growing number of women are choosing a more aggressive option: removing healthy tissue, prophylactic double mastectomy. According to the new study, they’re up 14 percent.

“There’s a definite fear of recurrence, fear of death from breast cancer. Patients feel undergoing bilateral mastectomy they decrease those chances,” says Dr. Carla Fisher a breast surgeon with Penn Medicine.  She says the decision to have a double mastectomy as opposed to breast conserving surgery doesn’t reduce death rates.  That’s now confirmed in a sweeping new study.  Dr. Fisher says, “Surgery is one important component of breast cancer, there are lots of other therapies that are just as good if not better.”  Those other treatments can include radiation.

The new research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association covered 189,000 patients.  After ten years, death rates were similar between women having both breasts removed and those having lumpectomy.

The research did not address specifically women like movie star Angelina Jolie who had bilateral mastectomy. Doctors say for patients like her with a family history, double mastectomies could be lifesaving.  “People with a predisposition are different, there can be some benefit for those patients,” she said.

Dr. Fisher also says women sometimes chose of have a double mastectomy because the reconstruction can look more symmetrical,  but there’s also an increased risk of infection and other complications.

Stephanie Stahl