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Mastectomy is removal of breast tissue to treat or prevent breast cancer. “Unilateral mastectomy” is the surgical removal of one breast. “Bilateral mastectomy” is the removal of both breasts. “Prophylactic mastectomy” or "risk-reducing mastectomy" refers to the removal of healthy breasts to reduce a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. Bilateral prophylactic mastectomy is the most effective means of reducing a woman’s risk; however, the benefits of such surgery depend on each woman’s individual risk. Because even the most experienced breast surgeon cannot remove all breast tissue, a small risk of developing breast cancer remains after prophylactic mastectomy.
Although effective, some consider risk-reducing mastectomy to be a drastic way to lower cancer risk. A woman’s decision to remove her healthy breasts is highly personal. Confronting your personal cancer risk can be confusing and frustrating. If you are a high-risk woman trying to choose the best risk-management option, you need a clear sense of your personal risk as possible and an understanding of the potential benefits, risks and side effects of risk-reducing surgery. Therefore it is important to consult with a specialist in cancer genetics when determining your risk for breast cancer and making risk-management decisions that are best for you. Stay in contact with a genetics expert for updates on current knowledge.