Should You Have Both Breasts Removed When Fighting Cancer?

By Marshalee George, Kimlin Tam Ashing

Sometimes the option to remove both breasts is based on the disease, and sometimes it’s based on the disease plus a patient’s anxiety. The guidelines do state that if you have left breast cancer, you can have a lumpectomy with radiation or a mastectomy. Yet often women choose to remove both breasts to reduce the risk of getting another breast cancer.

Breast reconstruction options for the non-breast cancer side are the same for a breast cancer side. Here are some possible reasons for removing the other breast when there is no cancer:

  • Breast cancer gene mutation carriers (BRCA1, BRCA2, and so on)
  • Strong family history of breast cancer
  • The original cancer was not found by mammograms or other tests
  • Personal choice of a woman after considering her breast cancer risk

Advantages

  • Easier to have both breasts look the same or symmetric
  • One surgery and one hospital stay
  • Reduced chance of getting breast cancer
  • No need for future mammograms (if all tissue from both breasts is removed)

Disadvantages

  • If abdominal flaps are being used, only half the abdominal tissue can be used for each breast (which limits the size of the reconstructed breasts). Implants, tissue expanders, or back tissue may be needed to make the breasts the right size.
  • Lengthy surgery compared to reconstructing one breast
  • Increased risk for complications