One option that is used for both prevention and treatment of breast cancer is the double mastectomy. It is, however, an aggressive option that has become more common in recent years. In fact, the choice to have a double mastectomy has increased 21% from 2005 to 2013 among both women with and without a cancer diagnosis. But should you have a double mastectomy?
Whether you have breast cancer or are concerned about prevention; being informed about the options will help control your fear and make you feel prepared. Luckily, progress is being made when it comes to treatment and detection for all stages of breast cancer.
Things you should know about double mastectomy:
A mastectomy is surgery to remove your entire breast; basically all of the breast tissue. What is a double mastectomy? A double mastectomy, also called bilateral, is the complete removal of both breasts.
So, how do you decide on a double mastectomy?
Your personal situation will be one set of determining factors.
- Your stage of breast cancer.
- The type of breast cancer you have.
- Your age and overall health.
- Your personal preference for procedure.
- You doctor’s preference or guidance.
Initially, you might be thinking about prevention.
A prophylactic mastectomy is considered a preventive mastectomy for breast cancer. You might choose to have a mastectomy, single or more likely double, if you feel you are at risk for breast cancer.
If you carry the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation, research has shown that a double mastectomy may help reduce your risk of developing breast cancer by 95%. The prophylactic mastectomy is also potentially beneficial to women with a family history of breast cancer by reducing that risk by 90%.
If you aren’t looking for preventative options, the next question might be, should women with breast cancer opt for double mastectomies.
Researchers also conducted a study on women with breast cancer, comparing the outcomes of double mastectomies to the more traditional breast conserving surgery of lumpectomy with radiation. Between 1998 and 2011 the study found that 83.2% of women who had lumpectomy with radiation were alive ten years after their diagnosis. They also found that 81.2% of women who had a double mastectomy were alive ten years after their diagnosis. In this case, researchers determined that a double mastectomy isn’t necessarily a better survival solution for women with breast cancer. They are pretty close to being equal.
So, if you know that you carry the abnormal gene linked to breast cancer, or have a close family member, like a sister, mother, grandmother, or daughter who has had breast cancer, a double mastectomy could be an option.
There are other reasons why you might want to consider a double mastectomy:
- You don’t want or aren’t able to have radiation therapy.
- You’ve already had radiation and a lumpectomy that did not completely remove the cancer.
- You are pregnant and don’t want to do radiation therapy.
- You have a disease that might become worse or depress your immune system if you have radiation.
- You have a large tumor, greater than two inches across. Or the tumor might be large, relative to the size of your breast.
- You have cancer in several spots of the same breast that aren’t close enough to be removed without changing the shape of the breast, anyway.
There are a few things you should know about double mastectomy, if you choose it as an option for treatment.
A double mastectomy is major surgery and it will require a one to two day stay in the hospital plus recovery time.
General recovery is about four weeks, while returning to full, normal activity can take months.
Double mastectomy reconstruction surgery might be needed to improve the appearance of your breast after removal.
There will be some side effects after surgery. Numbness, pain and tenderness in chest and arms, limited arm or shoulder movement, and potential infection.
Also, you may still need more treatment after a mastectomy. There is the possibility that you might need chemotherapy or radiation treatment even after you’ve gone through all that.
Remember, double mastectomy is one option. Be sure to talk to your doctor about all the options available to you and that fit your personal needs and don’t be afraid to get a second opinion.
Knowledge is power. Obviously, the sooner you’re aware of your own personal health risk in regards to breast cancer, the sooner you’re able to discuss solutions with your healthcare practitioner. Make sure you get tested regularly.