Health Magazine

Regrets About Having a Bilateral Mastectomy When Only One Breast Has Cancer?

Posted on the 03 April 2015 by Jean Campbell

breastMuch is being written these days about a growing trend in which women diagnosed with breast cancer and needing a mastectomy are opting to have the healthy breast removed as well.

While each woman chooses for her own reasons, many women  share some common motivations in their choice to have the non-cancerous breast removed. Choices range from having the greatest possible peace of mind by reducing the chance of recurrence to the cosmetic considerations of perfectly matched, balanced, reconstructed breasts covered by insurance.

Other like myself, who’ve had a previous breast cancer, just want our breasts gone. They have caused us too much anxiety with extra screenings and  biopsies to check out every unexplained change.

Years after my second cancer, a friend asked if I had any regrets about having a bi-lateral mastectomy with no reconstruction. My answer was a resounding NO!

Why? I had no control over getting breast the first or second time, but I did have the power to make a choice that would give me the greatest peace of mind. And that is what I did. I chose to have the breast with cancer removed and the other breast, the site of the first cancer 10 years earlier, also removed.

Why no reconstruction? It didn’t seem necessary to me. I didn’t want anymore surgery than I had to have to rid myself of cancer. I was and still AM fine with being flat chested, just as I had been until the birth of my child. I was never in to showing cleavage. I was well aware that breast prostheses do a good job of filling out clothing, and when they come off at night…I can comfortably sleep on my stomach!

Her question got me thinking about all of the women who’ve made the same choice I made after being diagnosed with cancer in one breast…the decision to have the other breast removed. What, if any were their regrets?

My research turned up a paper about a survey of women who chose a bilateral mastectomy that answered my question. The paper reports on a survey conducted at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., in which hundreds of women, who chose a bilateral mastectomy, were each asked about having any regrets about the decision to have a healthy breast removed along with the breast that had a cancer.

The survey included women who had a cancerous breast and a healthy breast removed between 1960 and 1993. They were surveyed 10 years later to determine if they had regrets or were still satisfied with their choice. They were also asked if they would make the same decision again. After another 10 years, the majority were surveyed once more. Complete results were available for 269 women.

In the initial survey, 86 percent said they had no regrets about their decision and 95 percent said they would repeat the procedure if they had to again. In the 20-year follow-up, 90 percent expressed satisfaction with their decision and 97 percent said they would repeat it.

Previous research found that women who had undergone  a prophylactic  mastectomy (removal of the healthy breast along with the breast with cancer) were satisfied with their decision soon after the surgery. The outcome of this survey  documents that women who were comfortable with their decision after the surgery are still comfortable with their choice many years later.

I can relate to the women in the survey that stated they would choose a bilateral mastectomy again, even though they admitted to have experienced negative body image and feelings of a loss of femininity. Having no regrets about a decision to have both breasts removed doesn’t mean there are no feelings about having to make such a decision.  There is a mourning period. It takes time to accept the change in one’s body image.

For more information about prophylactic mastectomy, visit the U.S. National Cancer Institute.

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