Women with breast cancer are much less likely to opt for contralateral prophylactic mastectomies if they know it won’t prolong their lives, according to a survey of 2,402 women with unilateral stage 0-II breast cancer.

Contralateral prophylactic mastectomy (CPM) – removing the healthy breast along with the cancerous one – is on the rise for early-stage, unilateral breast cancer because of “celebrity exposure and publicity,” said investigators led by Reshma Jagsi, MD, of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor ( JAMA Surg. 2016 Dec 21. doi: 10.1001/jamasurg.2016.4749 ).

CPM might make sense for women at genetic risk for breast cancer, like actress Angelina Jolie – who made headlines in 2013 when she opted for double mastectomy – but the survey found that nearly one in five women with no genetic risks also opted for CPM when their surgeons made no recommendation either way.

When surgeons advised against the procedure, the number fell to about 2%. Meanwhile, many women said their surgeons stayed silent on the issue, which is a problem, according to the investigators.

Overall, about 44% of women in the survey considered CPM, but just 38% of them said they knew that CPM didn’t improve survival for all women with breast cancer.

“Some patients may pursue CPM for cosmetic symmetry or other reasons. However, it is not clear that average-risk patients who choose CPM truly understand that it will not improve their survival or alter recurrence risk,” the investigators noted.

Surgeons’ knowledge and communication practices could be targets for quality improvement interventions, the investigators wrote. “Our findings should motivate surgeons to broach these difficult conversations with their patients, to make their recommendations clear, and to promote patients’ peace of mind by emphasizing how other treatments complement surgery to reduce the risk of both tumor recurrence and subsequent cancer development,” they said.

Women in the study were identified through the Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) registries of Los Angeles County and Georgia. They were 62 years old, on average. CPM was associated with younger age, white race, higher educational level, family history, and private insurance.

The National Institutes of Health supported the study. Dr. Jagsi reported having no disclosures. A coauthor reported research funding from Myriad Genetics, Invitae, Ambry Genetics, GeneDx, and Genomic Health.