Medicine: Was This Operation Necessary?

Doctors question the First Lady's mastectomy decision

When Nancy Reagan entered Bethesda Naval Hospital two weeks ago, her plight, like that of Betty Ford 13 years ago, focused national attention on breast cancer. The affliction is the No. 3 killer of American women, after heart disease and lung cancer. The First Lady's case underscored the importance of early detection: her tumor was discovered during an annual mammogram, which is recommended for older women. But her choice of treatment caused some consternation and puzzlement in the medical community.

Mrs. Reagan's decision to have a modified radical mastectomy -- the removal of the entire breast and underarm lymph nodes --...