The unaffected breast

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Some women who are having a mastectomy wonder whether they should have their unaffected breast removed as well.

Evidence shows this is not usually necessary unless someone has a higher risk of developing primary breast cancer in the other side. This might be because they have inherited an altered gene or several close relatives have had breast cancer or a related cancer.

Many women overestimate their risk of developing a new primary cancer in the other breast or mistakenly believe breast cancer can spread from one breast to the other. It’s important to discuss your individual situation with your surgeon.

Which operation should I have?

Some people will be offered a choice between breast-conserving surgery and a mastectomy.

Long-term survival is the same for breast-conserving surgery followed by radiotherapy as for mastectomy.

Studies show that women who have a wide local excision may be slightly more likely to have a local recurrence (where breast cancer returns in the same breast), which can be treated again. However, most people don’t have a recurrence.

Talk to someone

You may find it helpful to talk through your options with your breast care nurse.

Here are some questions you might want to ask your treatment team about your surgery.

  • what surgery will I need and why?
  • where will the scars be?
  • what will my breast area look like after surgery?
  • what side effects can I expect?
  • how long will I take to recover?
  • can I see photographs of people who have had breast surgery?
  • can I see some breast prostheses (artificial breast forms)?

You can also call Breast Cancer Now’s Helpline on 0808 800 6000.

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