Patient-reported outcomes among women with unilateral breast cancer undergoing breast conservation versus single or double mastectomy

Purpose: More women with unilateral early stage breast cancer are electing bilateral mastectomy (BM). Many cite anxiety, fear of recurrence, and certain aesthetic desires in their decision-making. Yet conflicting data exist regarding how these factors both inform and are modulated by medical decision-making, especially among women eligible for breast conservation (BCT). This study sought to assess the trajectories of women undergoing various surgical procedures for breast cancer.

Methods: We performed a prospective longitudinal study of women with unilateral, non-hereditary breast cancer who underwent BCT, unilateral mastectomy (UM), or BM. Women completed surveys before surgery and at 1, 9, and 15 months postop. Surveys included questions about treatment preferences, decisional control, the HADS-A anxiety scale, the Fear of Relapse/Recurrence Scale (FRRS), and the BREAST-Q. The Kruskal-Wallis test was used to compare outcomes between BCT, UM, and BM groups at each time point.

Results: 203 women were recruited and 177 (87.2%) completed 15-month follow-up. Of these, 101 (57.0%) underwent BCT, 33 (18.6%) underwent UM, and 43 (24.2%) underwent BM. Generalized anxiety and FRRS scores were similar between BCT, UM, and BM groups and declined uniformly after surgery. Although baseline breast satisfaction was similar between groups, at 15 months, it was significantly lower in BM patients than in BCT patients. Women who felt “very” confident and “very” informed before surgery had lower anxiety, lower fear of recurrence, better psychosocial well-being (PSWB), and greater breast satisfaction at 15 months.

Conclusion: While patients who undergo mastectomy have less long-term breast satisfaction, all patients can expect to experience similar improvements in anxiety and PSWB. Efforts should be made to ensure that patients are informed and confident regardless of which surgery is chosen, for this is the greatest predictor of better outcomes.

Keywords: Bilateral mastectomy; Breast conservation; Breast satisfaction; Psychosocial well-being; Quality-of-life outcomes.