Breast-conserving surgery–i.e., lumpectomy rather than a disfiguring mastectomy–has increasingly become the standard treatment for women diagnosed with early stage breast cancer. However, a study published in the online Journal of General Internal Medicine reveals that Asian American and Pacific Islander (AA/PI) breast cancer patients, especially those who were not born in the U.S., are less likely to receive breast-saving surgery than their white counterparts. This is especially disturbing because breast cancer morbidity and mortality appears to be rising in AA/PI women, according to the study’s leader, Mita Sanghavi Goel, MD, of Northwestern University.

Why the disparity? Goel offers several theories, including language barriers that may make it more difficult for foreign-born AA/PI women to communicate with their physicians about treatment options. Another possible reason, she adds, is that these women may be choosing voluntarily to have mastectomies because they prefer immediate treatment (complete removal of the breast makes follow-up radiation therapy unnecessary). Thus, they may view mastectomy as less disruptive to the traditional
care-taking roles many AA/PI women perform in their families, Goel explains.

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