Should I remove my healthy breast?

Why do women with breast cancer want to remove their healthy breast?

Women with cancer in one breast may think about removing the healthy breast as part of their treatment. The practice is called contralateral prophylactic mastectomy (CPM).

Women may make this decision because they:

  • Fear the cancer will come back in one or both breasts
  • Do not want more tests
  • Fear future tests, such as mammogram, magnetic resonance imagining (MRI), or ultrasound will not find cancer in the breast
  • Want their breasts to look equal after surgery
  • Do not want to go through a diagnosis and treatment again

If I remove my healthy breast, can it help lower my risk of the cancer coming back?

If you remove your healthy breast, it does not stop cancer from coming back on the same side as your cancer or in the rest of your body.

It does not help you live longer if you remove your healthy breast.

What are my risks of getting cancer in my healthy breast?

The risk has gone down over the last 15 years. We believe this is because of better breast cancer care.

  • Your risk of getting cancer in your healthy breast in 20 years is 4 out of 100.
  • Your risk of getting cancer in your healthy breast after chemotherapy or hormone treatment in 20 years is 2 out of 100.
  • Your risk of getting cancer in your healthy breast in 20 years if you are younger than 50 years old when you are diagnosed is 6 out of 100.
  • Your risk of getting cancer in your healthy breast in 20 years if your cancer is ER negative is 9 out of 100.

What are my risks of cancer in my healthy breast if there is breast cancer in my family?

A majority of women with breast cancer do not have family members who have had breast cancer.

Women with breast cancer in their family are at a higher risk based on:

  • The age of the family member when they got cancer
  • How many family members have breast cancer
  • A harmful change in their BRCA1 and 2 genes
  • p53 gene
  • Other rare known family traits

Your risk of cancer in your healthy breast, based on your family history, is estimated as follows:

  • One aunt, grandmother, cousin, or more distant relative with breast cancer—5 out of 100
  • Mother, daughter, or sister with breast cancer—10 out of 100
  • More than one family members with breast cancer—15 out of 100
  • Women with a known BRCA mutation—50 out of 100

Chemotherapy and hormone therapy can lower your risk by half.

What are the risks if I remove my healthy breast?

  • Having more than one surgery at the same time puts you at a higher risk for problems, especially if reconstruction is done.
    • A major problem is two times more likely to happen if you remove both breasts instead of one.
    • The risk of infection and needing extra surgeries is higher.
  • Problems from surgery can hold up the start of chemotherapy or radiation. Delays can change how well those treatments work to prevent the return of cancer.
  • After surgery
    • 25 out of 100 women say they have problems with sex and body image.
    • Up to 40 out of 100 women say they have pain more than a year later.

Medical Terms

Bilateral mastectomy
remove both breasts
Breast reconstruction
using surgery to make a new breast after cancer is removed
Cancer
an illness where cells that are not normal grow and take over healthy cells in the body
Chemotherapy/hormone therapy
treatment with chemicals that help kill cancer
Estrogen receptor(ER) negative cancer
cancer that does not respond to female sex hormones
Genes
information carried in your DNA
Genetic mutation
a change in genes causing the body to become ill
Mammogram
an x-ray of the breasts
Mastectomy
taking away all of the breast
Radiation
treatment of cancer using energy transfer through waves
Unilateral mastectomy
remove one breast
Last reviewed: 
October 2017

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