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Prophylactic Mastectomy: Why This Woman Chose It

Prophylactic Mastectomy: Why This Woman Chose It

By Sheryl Kraft

Created: 10/07/2009
Last Updated: 10/23/2018

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This being breast cancer awareness month, I'm even more hyper-aware of anything in the news that has to do with the subject. So, when I received an email from a reader, I felt it is too important - as well as pertinent - not to share.

Isabelle M., writes this: "I've been reading about more and more women opting to have their healthy breast(s) removed. I made that decision years after a mastectomy on my other breast, and I'd like to share my experience with you".

Isabelle goes on to write that she is a registered nurse, and has made her decision with full knowledge of all the facts. Although experts say there's no proof that the procedure extends the life expectancy of cancer patients, the rate of women removed after they've had cancer in the other breast is growing. Though still rather uncommon, the rate of contralateral mastectomy (removal of the opposite breast) has more than doubled in ten years.

In recent years, more and more doctors are recommending that their patients with breast cancer consider having their opposite (or unaffected) breast also removed - especially if they're relatively young at the time of diagnosis. Yet there are always other doctors who are outraged by a woman's choice to any healthy tissue removed, arguing that there's no scientific data to back up that decision.

There are also women who choose prophylactic mastectomy before they've even received a cancer diagnosis; most of these women are at high risk for developing breast cancer and want to do all they can to avoid it.

That decision, of course, should be a choice - and up to the woman, not the doctor, I think. While it might not be a medical necessity (some types of cancers are likely to occur as a mirror image in the opposite breast or there may be a strong family history of breast cancer), the choice - and it should be a choice - can most certainly be a psychological necessity. After all, how can the need to feel safe, not fearful, be ignored?

Here's Isabelle's account of her experience:
"After a mastectomy and failed reconstruction at age 44, I found myself with a single double- D sized, two- pound breast on one side and an ugly scar from the rejected implant on the other.

I plugged along for a few years, wearing a breast prosthesis in a specially designed bra, until one hot and humid summer when the bra got in the way of gardening and swimming, I could not stand it for another second.

At the same time, the fear of getting diagnosed with a new cancer in the remaining breast occupied my thoughts - a lot. Within a few months after visiting a few surgeons, I had a preventive mastectomy.

After the surgery I learned that the biopsy on the breast tissue that was removed was negative for cancer. Needless to say, I was so relieved, knowing that the breast tissue that betrayed my health earlier has been removed. I have no regrets whatsoever about my decision.

Today, I prefer being symmetrically flat-chested to wearing a heavy prosthesis and being left with one breast. It's worth the peace of mind.

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I'm just so thankful for my health right now. My great grandmother died of breast cancer and my grandmother and aunt both had it, but were ok. I hope I'll never have to make such a hard and awful choice.

As others have said, I can't imagine having to make that decision. I really don't know what I'd do, but I admire women like Isabelle who are willing to share their stories with others.

What a difficult decision to make - I can't even imagine. As a woman, I feel this to my very core.

Wow, it sounds like she made the right decision for herself! Not sure what I would do in her position, and I hope I'd have to make that decision.

This touches all of us on some level. Thanks for all your heart-felt comments. Alexandra, I wonder why the woman regretted keeping her second breast - did it become cancerous down the line?

Ditto to what Jennifer said above. How come Breast Cancer Awareness Month does not involve thinking about why breast cancer is on the rise and a discussion of the toxic chemicals that go into our environment on a daily basis, when there are studies that show some chemicals cause cancer? Where's the outrage???

I just read Grace & Grit, which tells one young woman's story of fighting breast cancer, making the decision to keep her second breast, and regretting it ultimately.

I faced a similar situation and had a bilateral mastectomy. I've never, ever regretted it. Beyond the greater peace of mind, which is considerable, my body is symmetrical.

I'm pretty sure I'd have them both off, but I hope I never have to find out.

My friend just had a double mastectomy. It seems so hard to be a woman and lose both of your breasts. I wish we could stop polluting our air and water and food so that fewer of us would have to succumb to this. I just feel so worried about women, young and old (and men too), who are suffering from cancer.

My sister recently faced this decision and chose to keep her unaffected breast (for now). One of her friends, though, lost a sister to breast cancer and after testing positive for the gene chose a double mastectomy rather than the looming fear. It's a tough decision, either way.

Man oh man. I just don't even know what to say. And, I think I'll leave it at that...


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