Is removing a healthy breast taking control of your destiny?

TAMPA - More and more women are choosing to remove their breasts to lower their cancer risk.

Researchers at the University of South Florida say they have risen by 125% over the past 10 years here in the Tampa Bay Area.

But is removing a healthy breast taking control of your destiny or putting yourself through unnecessary surgery based on an unrealized fear?

29-year-old Terri Comeau is a self proclaimed previvor. She took a drastic step to make sure she remains a previvor instead of fighting to be a survivor.

She opted to have a prophylactic mastectomy.

"Prophylactic means you're not medically required to have a mastectomy.  You're just choosing to remove the breast tissue, usually on both breasts at the same time, because you have concerns while there might not be cancer in the breast now, there could be a risk of cancer developing at some time", said Dr. David Wright of
Florida Cancer Specialists.

In the 1970's, some women's health advocates were suspicious of doctors who would quickly remove a breast, often leaving women feeling disfigured.

Today, women themselves are telling doctors that they want to take the more aggressive approach.

Researchers estimate that as many as 15% of women with breast cancer, about 30,000 a year, opt to have both breasts removed.  That's up from less than 3% in the late 1990's.

Doctors say an increasing number of women, like Terri, who have never had a cancer diagnosis, are shopping for mastectomies based on family history and the results of genetic tests.

Terri said it came down to staying alive for her husband and young son. She has a family history. Her mother had breast cancer and her aunt died of breast cancer at 38 years old.

Terri herself tested positive for the genetic mutation that brings with it an 87% chance of developing breast cancer. But doctors say a double mastectomy is not a guarantee of being breast cancer free forever.

"There's a small amount of breast tissue that's left behind, even after mastectomy, so you can have local reoccurrence and you can even have spread of your cancer to other parts of your body", said Dr. Wright.

And it may not be necessary for every woman who thinks she's at risk of developing breast cancer of falling sick again with a reoccurrence.

"There are some small cancers that have a low likelihood of causing women to have morbidity, meaning side effects from the treatment or from their disease and low likelihood that their disease will come back and
so usually for younger women who have very long life expectancies and that are at higher risk of cancer recurrence, it would be a better surgery for them", said Dr. Wright.

For more information on Terri's journey click here


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