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Preventive Mastectomy: Can It Help Avert Breast Cancer Risk?



The rate at which women are being diagnosed with breast cancer is alarming, to say the least. But thankfully, breast cancer can now be detected at very early stages with the help of advanced screening techniques.  Apart from the genetic breast cancer risk factor, unhealthy eating habits, hectic lifestyle, and environmental factors also add to the risk of developing the disease.

Some doctors may suggest preventive mastectomy as a solution when there is a relatively high risk of breast cancer.

What is Preventive Mastectomy?

Preventive mastectomy is a surgical procedure that involves the removal of one or both the breasts to reduce the risk of developing breast cancer. There are two options for this preventive measure known as subcutaneous mastectomy and total mastectomy. In a subcutaneous mastectomy, only the breast tissues are removed while the nipples are left intact. On the other hand, in total mastectomy, the entire breast is removed along with the nipples.

Many women, who are at an increased risk of developing breast cancer either due to BRCA1 mutation, family history, or lobular carcinoma in situ, often opt for preventive mastectomy. Angelina Jolie recently brought this option to light by deciding to talk about how she opted for a preventive mastectomy. She chose to be proactive when she came to know that she carried a gene mutation that would likely lead to breast cancer and because her mother had battled breast cancer as well which made her a high-risk category. So she underwent a double mastectomy.

This was a very brave choice in a world where looking good is an asset and especially so in Hollywood. Jolie also said that since she is a mom of six kids she did not want to play the waiting game with breast cancer. Now she feels relieved and believes that she made the right choice even though it was a very hard one.

Is Preventive Mastectomy Effective?

Even though many women may feel emboldened to go for a preventive mastectomy after such a high profile endorsement from Angelina Jolie, there still remains the question about its effectiveness. There have been many theories surrounding its effectiveness and whether it is the right step to take; opinion seems to be divided. Research suggests that preventive mastectomy may reduce the risk significantly by nearly 90% in women with moderate or high risk.

In Jolie’s case, both her mother and her aunt succumbed to breast cancer. Waiting till you develop breast cancer and then opting for mastectomy may not be as effective due to the widespread of breast tissues that branch into the armpit, collarbone, and chest areas. So you have to weigh your options before you make this difficult decision.

Complications of Preventive Mastectomy

Like any other surgery, preventive mastectomy has many drawbacks:

  • Bleeding or infection due to surgery
  • It is an irreversible process
  • Psychological and emotional trauma leading to body and self-image issues
  • Breastfeeding is not an option anymore which can again lead to feelings of loss and decreased self-worth

So, preventive mastectomy is an option if you have the mutated gene and you have first degree relatives who developed breast cancer. But you should always discuss any alternative treatments with your doctor before you make up your mind.