Making your decision about risk-reducing breast surgery
The decision whether or not to have risk-reducing breast surgery is not an easy one.
You may need lots of time to help you make up your mind and you shouldn’t feel rushed into making a decision.
The breast unit at the hospital should have a written procedure (protocol) for the care and support of women considering this type of surgery. It would include things like who you should see, and what information you should be given. Don’t be afraid to ask one of your hospital team to give you more information about their procedure.
You may find it helpful to hear about the experiences of other women who are, or have been, in the same situation as you. Your hospital team may be able to put you in touch with someone willing to share their experiences.
You can also visit our online community at macmillan.org.uk/community to chat with people who know what you’re going through.
However, it’s important to remember that everyone is different, so what was right for one woman may not be right for you. It’s important to do what feels right for you and to take as much time as you need to make your decision.
If you’re concerned about the impact that developing breast cancer might have on your family, remember this will be greatly reduced by having risk-reducing surgery. And, you won’t have to go through routine breast screenings anymore and the worry that comes with them.
Many women are concerned about how they will look after risk-reducing breast surgery. They worry it will make them less attractive and may affect their relationships with others, particularly a partner or future partner.
Considering appearance after surgery
It can take time to adjust to your new appearance after surgery and this can be harder for some women than for others. Sharing your feelings and concerns with someone you trust, such as a close friend or your partner, can help. It’s important to remember that you will still be you, even if your appearance has changed due to surgery.
It may help to write down what you see as the advantages and disadvantages of having surgery to help you decide what’s right for you.
Advantages and disadvantages
We’ve included some possible advantages and disadvantages of having risk-reducing surgery here.
The operation greatly reduces your risk of breast cancer (by about 95%).
After the operation most women say they feel much less anxious about getting breast cancer and about the impact it could have on their family.
You won’t need to have breast screening.
After the operation it can take up to six months or more to fully recover.
As with all operations, there can be complications.
Your body won’t look the same and you may not be happy with the change in your appearance. Some women feel less confident sexually.
You may not develop breast cancer anyway, even if you don’t have the operation.
The results of the surgery are permanent. You can’t change your mind once you’ve had the operation.
If you are having breast reconstruction as well, you’re likely to need more than one operation to get the best cosmetic result.
If you don’t want to have risk-reducing mastectomy or you aren’t ready to make that decision, you can always talk with your geneticist or hospital team about the other options available.
Your feelings about risk-reducing surgery
How you feel about risk-reducing breast surgery will depend on many things such as your risk of developing breast cancer, your experience of breast cancer within your family and how you feel about your breasts. If you have a partner, their feelings may also help shape your decisions.
Other things that may influence your decision are your cultural and religious beliefs, as well as your level of fitness and general well-being.
It’s a good idea to discuss your situation with a range of professionals including your GP, a genetic counsellor/clinical geneticist, a psychologist, a breast surgeon and a clinical nurse specialist. It’s helpful to involve your partner, a relative or a close friend in the discussions about the risks and benefits of this type of surgery.
It’s important to give yourself plenty of time to weigh up the potential advantages and disadvantages before making a decision.
Remember, none of these discussions will commit you to a decision – they can simply help you to make up your mind.