Your Health: Prophylactic Mastectomies Increasing
Published October 24th, 2013
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Preventative medicine is usually encouraged, but is this a case of it being taken too far? Research shows a growing trend towards contralateral prophalactic mastecomies.
Choosing to remove both breasts to prevent breast cancer from coming back seems to be growing increasingly common, with stories like actress Angelina Jolie's surgery fueling discussion.
Some doctors worry this may be fueled by patient's fear, despite the fact that the risk of developing breast cancer for a second time in the other breast is lower than ever before thanks to advances in the therapies used to treat the disease.
Mishel McElroy is a member of the TV20 sales team who was diagnosed with breast cancer this summer.
"That word 'cancer' just kind of flashes across your face," McElroy says, "and that's what you see is cancer."
She became one of thousands of women every year who face some very difficult decisions.
"I was like 'Oh gosh, do I have to do this? Do I have to get them both removed?'" she says. "And how is it going to affect me later on?"
Some are calling it the Angelina Jolie effect, but this trend began long before the actress shared her story. Studies show in recent decades more women choosing to have prophylactic mastectomies, despite a low risk of recurrence in many of these cases.
Dr. Cherylle Hayes from The Cancer Center at North Florida Regional Medical Center sees many women considering mastecomies out of fear.
"Most women who undergo contralateral prophylactic mastectomy and have that opposite breast removed are not at risk," Hayes says.
In fact, women like Jolie who do posess a significant risk of breast cancer recurrence, because of the BRAC1 or BRAC2 gene, only account for about 5 to 10 percent of all breast cancers.
Research shows the growing interest in prophylactic mastectomy may be fueled by media attention on certain high profile cases, and it's not something to take lightly.
"There are various forms and various techniques that take different times under anesthesia, and multiple stages to complete," Hayes says.
And for McElroy, it would have meant a much longer recovery, and more time off from work.
"It's massive surgery, it's a major decision," she says.
McElroy is currently finishing radiation treatment for her cancer, after tests showed her tumor was not likely to come back. It's a decision she was comfortable making after learning about all her options.
Doctors like Hayes says there's not necessarily a right or wrong answer, just the one that will give you the most peace of mind.
"Educate yourself, be armed with information and be the president of your own body so that you walk out knowing you've made the right decision for yourself," Hayes says.
Dr. Hayes reccomends for anyone facing some of these decisions, taking notes at apointments and bringing a trusted friend or family member along can ensure you get all the information you need and don't forget things to discuss at home.
For more information, visit: www.cancer.gov
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