During lunch with a good friend last week, she asked if, in the past two years since my second go-round with breast cancer, did I have any regrets about having had a bilateral mastectomy.
Regrets about choosing a bilateral mastectomy…no. I had no control over getting breast cancer 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.
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 recent 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.