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What Is a Preventive Mastectomy?

Women who have the breast cancer gene may elect to have a preventative mastectomy to reduce their chances of developing breast cancer.
Article Details
  • Written By: M.C. Huguelet
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 28 August 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2014
    Conjecture Corporation
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A preventive mastectomy, sometimes also known as a prophylactic mastectomy, is a medical procedure in which one or both breasts is removed to reduce one’s risk of breast cancer. This procedure is generally only performed on those who have a high risk of developing breast cancer. While a preventive mastectomy can significantly reduce this risk, there are several considerations that should be taken into account before undergoing the surgery, such as its irreversibility, its potential to fail, and its possible physical and emotional side effects.

Generally, only those who have a high risk of developing breast cancer are considered good candidates for preventive mastectomy. Several factors may indicate whether a woman is at a heightened risk for developing the disease. For instance, if a woman has a personal history of breast cancer or has a close relative who had breast cancer, particularly at an early age, she is generally considered to have a heightened risk. Women who have tested positive for BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic mutations, which are linked to an increased likelihood of breast cancer, are also considered good candidates for the procedure. Those with dense, difficult-to-examine breasts also sometimes seek mastectomy, as do women with extensive histories of breast abnormalities.

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There are two main types of preventive mastectomy: simple mastectomy or subcutaneous mastectomy. A simple mastectomy involves the full removal of the breast, while a subcutaneous mastectomy preserves the nipple. As the breast tissue which remains intact after a subcutaneous mastectomy can potentially become cancerous, many physicians recommend simple mastectomy.

Medical research suggests that preventive mastectomy can lower one’s risk of breast cancer by as much as 90%. Choosing to have one or both breasts removed is a serious decision, however. Therefore, several considerations should be taken into account before undergoing this procedure.

First of all, preventive mastectomy is not a reversible procedure. Therefore, those considering it should make sure they fully understand the physical and emotional changes they will face afterward. For instance, they will no longer be capable of breastfeeding a child. Many women also find that their body image suffers as they adjust to life without their natural breasts and grow accustomed to the scars left by the procedure.

It must also be noted that preventive mastectomy, whether simple or subcutaneous, does not guarantee that a woman will never develop breast cancer. This is because after the procedure, small amounts of breast tissue may remain in the upper chest area or near the armpits. There is a chance that this remaining tissue can become cancerous.

Any woman considering preventive mastectomy should take note of these considerations and then decide the best course of action for herself. Discussing the procedure with medical experts as well as loved ones can be useful when making this decision. Many women find that the increased peace of mind the procedure affords outweighs its negative points. Further, reconstructive surgery and counseling help many women cope with the physical and emotional side effects of this surgery.

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