Deanna’s Discoveries: Should I remove a healthy breast?

It’s breast cancer awareness month, and I’m taking a look at the difficult choice patients are making in increasing numbers.

Patients are choosing to have a double mastectomy even though they have cancer in only one breast.

In this week’s edition of Deanna’s Discoveries, I tell you why oncologists find this trend troubling.

I remember well the morning I was wheeled into that chilly operating room for my double mastectomy. It was 2011.

I had cancer in only the right breast, but chose to remove my healthy left breast as well. It’s called risk-reducing mastectomy, and it’s a growing trend. A study of 1.2 million patients revealed the number of women, 44 and younger, who chose double mastectomy almost tripled in eight years soaring from 10.5 percent to 33.3 percent.

"You hear the diagnosis of breast cancer and often the gut reaction is just cut them both off. I never want to go through this again. I never want to deal with this again," said Dr. Kristin Skinner, chief of surgical oncology at Pluta Cancer Center.

But does the removal of your healthy breast substantially increase your chance of survival?

For most women, the answer is no.

"It’s estimated that their risk of developing a breast cancer in the opposite breast is about three percent in 10 years," said Dr. Skinner. She stressed that surgery carries risk as well.

And when you elect to remove a healthy breast, you’re opting for a more involved surgery.

"You know twice as much surgery means twice as many potential complications. Is it worth it for that really small risk reduction?" Dr. Skinner asked.

But for women like Angelina Jolie who have a genetic mutation that dramatically increases their risk of developing breast cancer, risk-reducing mastectomy is a recommended option.

Still, surgeons acknowledge that for every woman the decision is profoundly personal.

"If you’re going to have mastectomy and reconstruction on one side, while they do amazing work, it’s very difficult for the plastic surgeons to make something to match Mother Nature," said Dr. Skinner.

So, some women choose a double mastectomy and reconstruction so both breasts look alike.

I chose a double mastectomy because I’ve had cancer multiple times and desperately wanted to reduce my chances of getting it again.

Some studies show removing the healthy breast can decrease the risk of breast cancer to less than one percent but still, it’s not a guarantee.

"You can get a recurrence of the cancer after mastectomy. You can get a new cancer after mastectomy," said Dr. Skinner.

And that’s what happened to me.

This time, it’s a new breast cancer on what was my healthy side. And so, I fight again. But I want to remind you that my experience is rare.

The odds of getting breast cancer after a risk-reducing mastectomy are extremely low.

It’s important that you make a fully informed decision so I’ve provided information about risk-reducing mastectomy provided by the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society to help you make an informed decision.

Click the above links for more information about risk-reducing mastectomy.