DENVER (CBS4) – A study of breast cancer patients finds there’s a significant complication for many of the patients who choose a partial mastectomy.

The findings, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, show nearly one in four women need additional surgery, and that can be very stressful.

Laura Lechtenberg was shocked when she was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 43.

“It seemed not real, it seemed like it wasn’t happening,” Lechtenberg said.

Ten days later doctors she had a partial mastectomy, but that was just the beginning.

“A week later I had to have a second re-excision, and then a week later I had to have a third surgery,” Lechtenberg said.

The new study finds Lechtenberg’s story is not unusual. Lechtenberg’s doctor says it’s a problem.

“A lot of different techniques have been applied to try to reduce this percentage further with different technologies, different imaging, ways of doing surgery. Nothing so far universally has been able to do that,” said Dr. Catherine Dang, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center breast surgeon.

In a partial mastectomy, doctors remove the cancer along with a margin of normal breast tissue. But the study found there’s no consensus on how large that margin should be. Some say at least a millimeter.

“Healthy tissue, 360 degrees all around the cancer in order to feel that we have thoroughly and completely removed that site of disease,” said Dr. Freya Schnabel, Director of Breast Surgery at NYU Langone Medical Center.

If the tissue shows abnormal cells around the edge, additional surgery may be necessary. But the goal is to conserve as much of the breast as possible.

“If I could save my breast I would do anything to save my breast,” Lechtenberg said.

Even after three surgeries, Lechtenberg said it was worth it.

The Food and Drug Administration is looking at a new device called a “margin probe.” If approved it will be used during surgery to determine if the margins around the cancer are clean. Doctors think it could significantly reduce the number of additional operations.


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