Thinking about risk-reducing breast surgery

When you are thinking about risk-reducing breast surgery, you will be supported by a team of specialists. They can answer your questions and give you the information, support and counselling you need. They are called a multidisciplinary team (MDT).

You will have several appointments with different healthcare professionals. They will talk to you about:

  • your risk of breast cancer
  • the different options for managing or reducing your risk
  • whether clinical trials or preventative hormone medication might be another option
  • what risk-reducing breast surgery involves
  • your options for breast reconstruction surgery
  • your feelings about the surgery and how it may affect you and your relationships.

This usually takes several months. This may sound like a long time. But it is important to take your time and make an informed decision.

The following healthcare professionals will support you while you make your decision:

  • Clinical geneticist or genetics counsellor

    They explain your risk of getting breast cancer over the next 5 to 10 years and over your lifetime. They will also talk to you about ways you can reduce or manage your risk of breast cancer.

  • Breast surgeon

    They will talk to you about your risk of breast cancer and about risk-reducing breast surgery. They will also explain other ways to reduce or manage your risk.

  • Reconstructive surgeon

    They will talk to you about your options for breast reconstruction surgery. They can be a breast surgeon or a plastic surgeon. They can show you photos of people who have had risk-reducing breast surgery and breast reconstruction.

  • Breast care nurse

    A breast care nurse will give you information and support.

  • Psychologist

    A psychologist can help you with your feelings and expectations about risk-reducing breast surgery. They can help you think about what support you may need to cope with the effects of surgery and changes in the way you see your body (body image).

If you decide to have risk-reducing breast surgery, the wait for surgery is likely to be about 12 to 18 months.

Questions to ask your surgeon and breast care nurse

Here are some questions you may want to ask your breast surgeon and specialist nurse about risk-reducing surgery:

  • What types of surgery are suitable for me and why?
  • What are the possible complications or risks of the surgery?
  • Where will cuts be made and what might the scars look like?
  • How long will it take for me to recover from the operation?
  • If I decide to have surgery, how long will I have to wait to have it?
  • Can I talk to someone who has had risk-reducing breast surgery?
  • Can I talk to someone about the possible emotional effects of having risk-reducing breast surgery?
  • What type of support will be available to me after the operation?
  • If I decide not to have breast reconstruction, who can give me advice about breast prostheses, bras and swimwear?

We also have suggested questions if you decide to have breast reconstruction.

You can also download our table comparing breast reconstruction options [PDF] when having risk-reducing surgery.

Talking to others who have had risk-reducing breast surgery

It can be helpful to hear the experiences of others who have been in a similar situation to you. Your surgeon or breast care nurse can arrange for you to talk to others who have had risk-reducing breast surgery.

You can also visit our Online Community to talk to people who have had similar experiences.

Advantages and disadvantages of risk-reducing breast surgery

It might be helpful to take notes at appointments to remember what has been said. It may also help to write a list of the advantages and disadvantages of having surgery.


  • The operation greatly reduces your risk of developing breast cancer.
  • It aims to avoid the need for cancer treatments such as radiotherapy and chemotherapy, and potential side effects.
  • After the operation, you may feel much less anxious about getting breast cancer and the impact it could have on your life.
  • You will not need to have breast screening.


  • It can take up to 6 months or more to fully recover after the operation.
  • As with all operations, there can be complications. The results of the surgery are permanent.
  • Your body will not look the same as before. You may be unhappy with the change in your appearance.
  • If you are also having breast reconstruction surgery, you are likely to need more than 1 operation to get the best cosmetic result.
  • If you decide to have breast reconstruction surgery, the reconstructed breasts will not have the same feeling or sensation.
  • There will be numbness or a change in sensation.
  • You may feel less confident sexually.
  • You will not be able to breastfeed.

The timing of risk-reducing breast surgery

If you decide to have risk-reducing breast surgery, you will need to think about when to have the operation.

If you have gene mutations, this gives you a high risk of developing breast cancer. If you have family members who have had breast cancer, the ages they developed breast cancer may affect your decision.

In general, the younger you are when you have risk-reducing breast surgery, the more likely it is to prevent breast cancer. Your genetics counsellor or breast surgeon can talk to you about how your risk changes with age.

There are other things that can affect the timing of risk-reducing breast surgery. For example, this may include whether you are in a relationship or would like to have children and breastfeed in the future.

Your feelings about risk-reducing breast surgery

You will need time to explore your feelings about having risk-reducing breast surgery and having your breasts removed. This is important even if you have already decided you want to have the operation. You may have strong emotions after the operation. Taking time to think about how you feel can help you prepare.

If you have a partner, talking with them about your feelings, worries or concerns can help. If you and your partner might find it difficult to talk about how you feel, speak to your breast care nurse, counsellor or psychologist for advice.

People may react in different ways when you tell them you are thinking about having risk-reducing breast surgery. This can be difficult to deal with. It is important you focus on what is important to you. A psychologist or a breast care nurse can help you to do this.

You may want to consider the following things:

  • How anxious do you feel about the possibility of getting breast cancer?
  • If you have an experience of cancer in your family, how is it affecting your decision?
  • What do your breasts mean to you?
  • How would having your breasts removed affect you feel about yourself and your confidence?
  • If you have a partner, do you know each other’s feelings and concerns about the surgery?
  • If you are not in a relationship, are you worried the surgery may affect how you feel about future relationships? Are other people in your life affecting your decision?
  • If you are thinking about having breast reconstruction, have you thought about what your breasts will look and feel like afterwards?
  • What are your feelings about other options instead of surgery?

Take as much time as you need to make your decision.

About our information

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our risk-reducing breast surgery information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at

    National Institute for Health and Clinical excellence, Clinical guideline CG164, published 25 June 2013, last updated 20 November 2019: Familial breast cancer: classification, care and managing breast cancer and related risks in people with a family history of breast cancer. (accessed April 2023) 

    Paluch-Shimon. S, Cardoso. F, Sessa. C, Balmana. J, Cardoso. M, Gilbert. F, Senkus. E, on behalf of the ESMO Guidelines Committee (2016): Prevention and screening in BRCA mutation carriers and other breast/ovarian hereditary cancer syndromes: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for cancer prevention and screening. Annals of Oncology 27 (Supplement 5): v103–v110, 2016 doi:10.1093/annonc/mdw327 (accessed April 2023)      

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editor, Professor Mike Dixon, Professor of Surgery and Consultant Breast Surgeon.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

The language we use

We want everyone affected by cancer to feel our information is written for them.

We want our information to be as clear as possible. To do this, we try to:

  • use plain English
  • explain medical words
  • use short sentences
  • use illustrations to explain text
  • structure the information clearly
  • make sure important points are clear.

We use gender-inclusive language and talk to our readers as ‘you’ so that everyone feels included. Where clinically necessary we use the terms ‘men’ and ‘women’ or ‘male’ and ‘female’. For example, we do so when talking about parts of the body or mentioning statistics or research about who is affected.

You can read more about how we produce our information here.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 01 November 2022
Next review: 01 November 2025
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

Our cancer information meets the PIF TICK quality mark.

This means it is easy to use, up-to-date and based on the latest evidence. Learn more about how we produce our information.