Nfld. & Labrador

N.L. has highest rates of mastectomies in Canada: researchers want to know why

A group of researchers at Memorial University wants to know why women with cancer in Newfoundland and Labrador are having so many mastectomies.
In Newfoundland, 67 per cent of women who had surgery for breast cancer had a mastectomy, twice the national average. (CBC)

Researchers at Memorial University want to know why women in Newfoundland and Labrador have the highest rates of mastectomies among Canadian women.

"We want to explore this pattern of surgical care, what we're seeing, just to make sure women are making informed decisions," said Dr. Holly Etchegary with the Faculty of Medicine.

A 2012 study by the Canadian Institute for Health Information shows that among Canadian women with breast cancer who undergo surgery, the average rate of mastectomies was 32 per cent. For women in Newfoundland and Labrador, that rate more than doubles to about 68 per cent.

Dr. Etchegary and the other researchers want to know the reason behind that statistic. One possible determining factor could be the stage at which women are diagnosed with breast cancer.

"If it's a later stage tumour, then the choice of breast conserving surgery may not be an option," Etchegary told the Central Morning Show.

The researchers are collecting information that includes tumour staging data. If women are being diagnosed at a later stage than most Canadian women, this group is looking for the cause of that.

Interviewing breast cancer survivors

The group is also interviewing women who've had breast cancer to talk about why they chose to have a mastectomy or not, and what they were told at the time of their diagnosis. 

University researchers are interviewing patients and surgeons to find out when a diagnosis is made and what options are available to women. (Lindsay Bird/CBC)

Etchegary said it's possible that women are not being given enough information from medical professionals about other options.

Tell us about your decision. Were you given an option?- Dr. Holly Etchegary, researcher

"Tell us about your decision. Were you given an option? What sorts of things did you think about in making that decision?"

Focus groups in central Newfoundland take place in May. The group is also doing interviews with surgeons in the province.

About the Author

Julia Cook


Julia Cook reports from CBC's bureau in Gander, primarily for the Central Morning Show.

With files from the Central Morning Show