October Festival Guide

More opt for double mastectomies; doctors question if it’s right decision

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RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) – Dawn Foster looks back without regret on what she calls one of the toughest decisions she’s ever had to make.

“I wanted to be here for my boys,” she says. “I wanted to be here for my husband and I wanted to do everything I could do to make sure that I was.”

Dawn was diagnosed with cancer in her left breast in April 2006. She was only 32 years old.

She has a family history of breast cancer; Her mother and aunt are both breast cancer survivors.

So Dawn regularly performed her breast self-exams, which is how she found a lump. Her doctors recommended treatment that included a lumpectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation.

She started chemo while raising two young sons. She says it was tough, so tough she never wanted to experience it again and so made a drastic decision.

Instead of going to the next step, radiation, she asked her doctor to remove both her breasts – a double mastectomy.

“I wanted to do whatever I had to do to make sure I never had to go through that again,” Dawn says.

She’s not alone. A growing number of women are pushing their surgeons to remove both their cancerous and healthy breasts, a number that has more than doubled in recent years. And it’s happening even among women with the earliest, most curable breast cancer.

The Journal of Clinical Oncology reported the rate of double mastectomy in this group rose from 2.1 percent in 1998 to 5.2 percent in 2005. Massey Cancer Center oncologist and surgeon Dr. Harry Bear says that’s worrisome.

Dr. Bear says he’s concerned women are making the decision because they’re frightened but they don’t have all the facts. “The risk of developing breast cancer in the opposite breast is often overstated, overestimated by women who have this diagnosis,” he says.

Dr. Bear says the risk of developing cancer in the opposite breast is a half-percent each year. He adds that is not a cancer reoccurence, but a new cancer. Bear poiints out the surgery does not have an effect on women’s long-term survival.

The main threat he says is recovering from the cancer they have and not developing metestatic disease, rather than worrying about whether a new cancer will develop in the other breast.

Still, Dawn says she doesn’t worry because she says made the right decision. In fact, what she and her doctors thought was a healthy breast, turned out to be diseased after it was removed.

Tests after her double mastectomy showed she had early stage breast cancer in her right breast. “I think it was God’s way of telling me you made the right choice,” she says.

If you are considering having a double mastectomy, Dr. Bear says you should ask your doctor these questions:

First talk to them about any family history of breast cancer.

Then ask, “am I a candidate for genetic testing”?

Why are my reconstruction options?

Will this surgery improve my chances for survival?

What is my risk for developing cancer in the opposite breast?

That will ensure you have all the facts.


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