Preventive Mastectomy Satisfying
Survey Shows Patients Don't Regret Decision to Remove Disease-Free Breast
March 17, 2006 -- Breast cancer patients who chose to have a healthy breast surgically removed along with the diseased one tend to be satisfied with the decision, a new survey shows.
Preventive mastectomy is an option for women to reduce risk of developing breast cancer in the other breast, particularly in those with high risk for recurrence.
Bianca Kennedy, now 40, chose it five years ago while being treated for cancer in one breast, and she says she has never regretted it.
Kennedy had undergone a lumpectomy and was in her third month of chemotherapy when her sister was diagnosed with breast cancer for the third time.
"That made my decision easy," she tells WebMD. "I told my doctors I wanted both breasts removed. They had not tried to push me into doing it but after I said it was what I wanted they told me they thought it was the wisest thing to do."
Fears Remain for Many
Women who have cancer in one breast have a three- to fivefold higher risk of developing a second cancer in the opposite breast, and the risk is even higher among women with a family history of the disease.
Studies suggest that the removal of one or both breasts can reduce future breast cancer risk by about 90%, according to the National Cancer Institute.
In the newly published study, 519 women who had a disease-free breast removed while being treated for breast cancer were surveyed along with 61 breast cancer survivors who had only their diseased breast removed. Most of the women were treated during the 1980s and 1990s.
The survey was conducted by six health care delivery systems that took part in research funded by the National Cancer Institute. The results were published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
Almost nine out of 10 women who had preventive mastectomies (86.5%) reported being satisfied with their decision. Their quality of life was also equal to the women who did not have the preventive surgery, as determined by questions designed to measure perception of body image, sexual satisfaction, mood, and overall health.
While the women who had the preventive surgery were less fearful about a future breast cancer than women who did not have the surgery, about 50% still said they were "concerned" or "very concerned" about it.
"Women have this surgery to reduce their anxiety and worry about breast cancer," says Ann M. Geiger, PhD, a study researcher. "Our findings suggest that a significant proportion of them remain concerned."
Other Breast Cancer Options
Geiger tells WebMD that preventive mastectomy is and should remain a fairly rare procedure, because it is never a breast cancer patient's only option.
Other effective therapies to either reduce a woman's risk of breast cancer or a breast cancer patient's risk of recurrence include preventive drugs like tamoxifen, increased surveillance, and even removal of the ovaries if the woman is past the reproductive phase of her life.