I was given the opportunity to contribute to a story on the reasons why some women remove both breasts when only one is affected by breast cancer.
I found this an incredibly difficult decision but one I needed to be a peace with. I am certain I am not alone.
This is the story.....
A quarter of UK women who develop breast cancer in one breast ask to have both breasts removed and Australian experts say the number is increasing here.
Many of these women don't carry the faulty BRCA gene, so have a low risk of getting breast cancer again. However they say the stress of breast cancer treatment and fretting that it will come back makes it worth having the surgery.
Louise Turner, 42, from the NSW Central Coast, said having both breasts removed gave her indescribable peace of mind.
She was diagnosed in June 2012 and had a double mastectomy in April.
"The MRI showed nothing in my other breast, however MRI can only show high grade cancer cells, not low grade, so I decided the safest thing was to remove them both," she said.
"It was an incredibly difficult decision — the thought of removing my breasts made me feel sick. But I knew I never wanted to have to face my children and tell them that I have breast cancer again, so I became comfortable with the idea of doing it."
She saw five plastic surgeons to discuss the surgery, and said some of them grilled her to check she was sure about what she was doing, but she has no regrets.
"I thought I never want to have to face my children again and say, 'I have breast cancer'. Once I made the decision, I knew it was the right one," she said.
Turner said the initial surgery was painful — both emotionally and physically.
"You feel a sense of grief after the surgery — nurse told me it's a physiological response to the change in your body," she said.
The surgery was conducted in four parts over the course of a year to sculpt the shape and apply reconstructed nipples to give the breasts a normal appearance.
Doctors say double mastectomy is rarely necessary
Dr Jane O'Brien, a breast surgeon from the Epworth Breast Service, told ninemsn that removing the breast that does not have cancer is not a guaranteed lifesaver.
"I'm cautious about promoting it as a good thing to consider overall — it's a bit of a runaway train and we're trying to put the brakes on it," she said.
"Someone who does not have a genetic risk of breast cancer has about a 0.5 percent per annum chance of getting breast cancer in the other breast, so it is a pretty low risk. I go to a lot of pains to explain what they're realistically going to get out of it. If you think removing the other breast is going to make you live longer you're wrong."
But Dr O'Brien said she regularly performs the surgery because there are other benefits to getting both breasts removed instead of one.
"The main reasons most patients undergo contralateral mastectomy are for things like wanting breast symmetry, not wanting to go through chemo again and wanting to take control of the situation," she said.
Dr O'Brien said that having two breasts removed compared with one doubles your risk of reconstruction complications or wound complications.
"If I have a patient who has a high risk and they should get on with their chemotherapy, I say 'How much of a tragedy would it be if you took off the other breast and you got a horrible wound breakdown on the side that didn't come off and that put off your important chemotherapy for two months?'" she said.
"You can do it 12 months down the track if you still want to do it."
'I knew what I wanted'
Karen Foster, 53, from Sydney, didn't hesitate to demand a double mastectomy after doctors discovered she had grade-four breast cancer in her left breast.
"They thought the cancer was as big as a grain of rice, but when they went in, they found the cancer had spread from my ribs to my nipple and was chugging away like a champion," she said.
"The specialist said my right breast was fine, but we'd nearly missed the first one, and I didn't want this hanging over my head."
She had the operation on 23 December 2008, and says missing one Christmas at home with her kids was a small sacrifice to know that she would spend many more with them.
"My kids were seven and four when I was diagnosed and I have done everything I can to ensure I see them grow to adulthood," she said.
Foster said that her breasts aren't very "glamorous" but she's happy with them.
"They do have scars and they don't have any sensitivity but I look normal in a bikini," she said.
The Angelina effect
Professor Ian Olver, CEO of the Cancer Council, told ninemsn that since actress Angelina Jolie went public about her double mastectomy due to having a mutated BRCA gene that increased her chance of breast cancer, the number of women inquiring about double mastectomies has increased.
"It's a good thing to raise awareness but it's concerning if it's leading people to have inappropriate procedures because they don't see the difference between their situation and Angelina Jolie's," he said.
"I can understand a woman who is paralysed by the fear of recurrence wanting the other breast off, but it's more important to address those concerns and give her a realistic idea of the low risk if she was monitored and give her alternatives."
Louise Turner facilitates a private blog on the Breast Cancer Network Australia website for women wanting to discuss breast reconstruction. Karen Foster is a Breast Cancer Foundation of Australia speaker.
Source: Daily Mail Author: Kimberly Gillan; Approving editor: Rory Kinsella