Many women are surprised to learn that when they have breast reduction surgery, that tissue samples are routinely sent to pathology for diagnosis. Researchers claim that roughly one woman in ten will have abnormal breast pathology. Cells that appear abnormal under a microscope are referred to as atypical cells but they aren’t necessarily cancerous. Inflammation and infection can make normal cells appear atypical, even normal aging can make cells appear abnormal.
Men who have gynecomastia surgery (male breast reduction) have even less incidence for breast cancer than women but typically breast tissue is sent for evaluation as well.
But for the woman who discovers that she does have breast cancer from the results of the pathology analyzed from her breast reduction surgery, it could very well save her life. This happened recently to actress/comedian Wanda Sykes who opted for a double mastectomy when her pathology came back positive for breast cancer. Dr. Delgado’s has had one patient to date that had pathology results showing breast cancer, she attributes the discovery to saving her life.
In an article from May 2010 in “Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery”, it was reported that the incidence of occult carcinoma identified in the reduction mammoplasty samples of the macromastia population is low. The author of the article advises that “the cost effectiveness of routine pathologic examination following reduction mammoplasty is questionable and should be reconsidered. This is especially true in the younger patient population and the patient without prior personal history of breast cancer”.
With the cost of health care escalating it is unknown if breast tissue samples obtained from breast reduction surgery will continue to be routinely sent for evaluation and covered by insurance. It is important to discuss medical history and family history with your surgeon and understand all of your options.