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Friday, 12 January, 2001, 00:37 GMT
Women 'cope well' with breast surgery
Some women refuse precautionary surgery
Precautionary mastectomies successfully help to reduce anxiety among women at high risk of breast cancer, researchers say.

They also say that removal of both breasts did not have a detrimental impact on women's image of their own bodies, or on their sex lives.

The main message for women is that the outcome of this procedure is very, very favourable

Mal Hatcher, Royal Free Hospital
The operation is offered to some women with a strong family history of the disease, who are known to be at high risk of developing tumours themselves.

US research shows that undergoing breast removal significantly reduces the likelihood of developing breast cancer later on.

A team from Royal Free and University College Medical School, London, interviewed 154 women at high risk of breast cancer who had been offered surgery.

Of these, 79 accepted surgery, 64 declined, and 11 deferred making a decision.

The researchers found that the women who had opted for a mastectomy had significantly reduced anxiety after surgery.


In comparison, those who turned down surgery were more likely to continue to worry about their health.

Most of the women who underwent surgery opted for immediate reconstruction of their breast.

As a result, they were able to feel good about their bodies, and reported little change to their sexual activity, the research said.

However, the researchers did find that women who choose such surgery have a higher, often inaccurate, perception of their risk of developing breast cancer.

They say that genetic counsellors need to ensure that women's decisions about whether to have surgery are based on accurate information.

Favourable outcome

Researcher Mal Hatcher, of the Cancer Research Campaign, told BBC News Online: "The main message for women is that the outcome of this procedure is very, very favourable."

Women at higher genetic risk of breast cancer are those who have a combination of the following:

  • a mother or sister who has had the disease
  • a relative who developed breast cancer while young
  • a relative who developed the disease in both breasts
  • more than one relative who has had breast cancer
  • mutations in the BRAC-1 and BRAC-2 genes known to be linked to breast cancer
Jackie Graveney, of the charity Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: "Whether or not to have such drastic surgery is clearly a personal decision for the woman concerned.

"Such measures have been proven to reduce the chances of developing breast cancer in women who are considered at high-risk.

"However, such women should still have access to the best advice possible when faced with such a dilemma."

Ian Fentiman, Professor of Surgical Oncology at Imperial Cancer Research Fund's Unit at Guy's Hospital said it was still unclear exactly how much breast removal reduced the subsequent risk of cancer.

He said: "We urgently need a National Register of women who have had prophylactic mastectomies, so that the long-term effects can be determined and women with concerns are given accurate information."

The research is published in the British Medical Journal.

  • Women who want advice on the risk of breast cancer can call the hereditary breast cancer helpline on 01629 813 000.

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    15 Feb 00 | Health
    Warning over breast surgery
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