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Breast Cancer Health Center

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Few Women Who Opt for Preventive Mastectomy Have Regrets


"I have undergone counseling, and we talked about some the psychological issues involved in my decision, including how it feels to lose a breast," she says. "But for me, that seems superficial. It's a trade-off and you do what you have to what to do to live as long as you can."

She says that her only concern is whether a mastectomy will make it difficult for doctors to detect cancer in the remaining breast tissue. "It's a personal decision," she says. "I want to heighten my chances for survival as much as possible if I have the gene."

Not everyone feels the same way. Take breast cancer survivor Andrea Mulrain, 34. She opted to travel from her home in Stonybrook, N.Y., to Paris for an experimental treatment so she did not have to lose her breast because of the disease. Instead, Andrea chose bracytherapy, a treatment in which radioactive pellets are placed near the tumor to kill the cancer.

Her sister, Jessica Mulrain, 30, is now considered at high risk for breast cancer.

"I think that a prophylactic mastectomy is way too radical and extreme and may end up being unnecessary because you don't know if you are going to get breast cancer," Jessica tells WebMD. "Instead, I plan to get mammograms regularly and do breast self-exams every month."

Preventive mastectomies now make up about 3% of all mastectomies, but as more women get tested for the gene mutations, the number will likely increase.

"So many women who come from a family with a lot of breast cancer and early death from the cancer are afraid of their breasts, so they just want them off," Debbie Saslow, PhD, director of breast and cervical cancer at the American Cancer Society in Atlanta, tells WebMD.

But "women who undergo prophylactic mastectomy still have to continue going for mammograms and do special breast self-exams to check the scar," she says. Before getting tested for the genes, all women should see a genetic counselor, she says.

For more information on preventive mastectomies, visit the Cancer Society web site at or call 1-800-ACS-2345.

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