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"I Had a Double Mastectomy"

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"I Had a Double Mastectomy"

Smart solution—or drastic measure?

Hard statistics aren’t available, but experts say that growing numbers of high-risk women are making this preemptive strike. It’s a controversial choice. Some people regard the procedure as an overly dramatic response. Being at high risk isn’t a guarantee you’ll get the disease, after all—and even if you do, your cancer may be successfully treated. Also, research has not yet proved that “previvors,” as women who have the surgery often refer to themselves, livelonger than those who don’t.

Drastic or not, doctors say that postmastectomy regrets are rare. Women who decide to have the procedure often feel a greater sense of control over their own destiny. “Most, even those who had surgical complications or developed a more negative body image, say they’d elect to have it again because it brought them peace of mind,” says Marlene Frost, R.N., Ph.D., researcher at the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center in Rochester, MN. It helps that mastectomy isn’t remotely as mutilating as it once was, and that breast reconstruction can take place during the same surgical session as breast removal. Basile was also surprised—and thrilled—to find that she could keep her nipples. Doing so was long considered a dangerous practice because the milk ducts (where DCIS originates) converge toward the nipple, but physicians now realize that breast cancer virtually never develops in the nipple and surrounding tissue.

“In terms of appearance, the difference between removing and preserving the nipple is huge,” says Joseph P. Crowe, M.D., chief of breast services at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation. “The effect [of preserving] is quite natural.” Basile agrees, pleased with her transformation from a saggy 38DD to a perky 34DD. “I had my mom take pictures when I came out of the operating room, and my new breasts looked great—better than the originals,” she says. Three weeks after the surgery last spring, she was back to work.

Basile has decided to take a few additional steps to reduce her risk of both breast and ovarian cancers: After giving herself a few more years to possibly conceive a child, she’ll have her ovaries removed when she hits 40. And because ovarian cancer is very deadly—partly because it’s often diagnosed at a later stage—she’s screened with an ultrasound and a blood test every six months. Does she still worry about getting it? Sure, says Basile. “But in a situation that presents imperfect choices, I’m comfortable with the ones I’ve made to ensure my healthy future." 

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