Cancer victims who have a breast removed do not necessarily live longer, a new study concluded. Researchers said some patients with breast cancer appear to live just as long whether they choose treatment preserving their breast or have mastectomy.

The results of the study were presented at a European breast cancer conference in Barcelona yesterday, by Dr Lori Pierce, professor of radiation oncology at the University of Michigan.

Dr Pierce's team observed 655 breast cancer patients in Australia, Israel, Spain and the United States, all with genetic mutations making more prone to developing the disease.

Women who had their breasts removed had about a 6 per cent chance for cancer relapse compared with 24 per cent of women who kept their breasts, after 15 years.

If chemotherapy was included in the treatment of the latter group, their risk dropped to about 12 per cent. When it comes to survival rate however, both groups of cancer patients had almost no difference.

Women who kept their breast had 87 per cent survival rate after 15 years and women who had mastectomies, had 89 per cent survival rate.

This will be useful for patients who are bombarded with a lot of information at once. Being diagnosed with breast cancer and finding out they have a genetic susceptibility is a lot to process, and women may not want to think about mastectomy right then, Dr Pierce said.

Breast conservation therapy ... with chemotherapy and hormonal therapy is a very reasonable alternative, she added.

This is convincing data that shows women can keep their breasts and not be worse off, said Dr Alain Fourquet, head of radiation and oncology at the Institut Curie in Paris.

Maria Leadbeater, a clinical nurse specialist at British charity Breast Cancer Care said, Surgeons may be able to give more weight to patients' thoughts and wishes.

If both options are equally effective, then what the patient wants may become more important.

Julia Frater, senior information nurse at Cancer Research UK said, This information could be helpful for women with this type of inherited breast cancer who are making tough decision about their treatment.